Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Who's craziest?

I'm always up for a challenge. One day that may be my undoing. Believe it or not, we held our first training class of the year this weekend. Well, at least half of it. You see, we got seriously snowed out. I ended up driving nearly 80 miles in heavy snow. But what an adventure!

The demand for classes seems to grow every year. Last training season we had 7957 students come through the program. Somewhere around 6000 were in the Basic class. Throw in some advanced classes, track sessions, and police training, and you end up with a lot of students. Our instructors number about 150. Most just teach a few classes a year. Which means some of us are really busy. New instructors are added each year. These folks go through an internship with experienced Mentors. That's where I came in this weekend.

Some of last year's new instructors ran out of training time before completing their internships. When this year's assignments were scheduled the interns were slotted in first. Then the hunt for Mentors begins. I received a phone call asking me if I'd travel 47 miles South to Eugene. There was an intern scheduled that needed a Mentor. Of course, I said. Remind me to be more careful, won't you? Actually, I'm what the MSF would call a Chief Instructor. Which means I'm certified to train and sign off new instructors. I'd been impressed with this particular new instructor right from the very beginning. It would be neat to actually work with them in a class.

Saturday went well. When I'd introduced myself to these 12 students on Thursday night, I made this statement.

"I don't know who's crazier. You all for signing up for a class this early or me for teaching it. Either way, we'll have a lot of fun together."

We did have fun on Saturday. It was typical Oregon Winter weather. That is, 39 degrees (f) and a cold rain. You couldn't have asked for a better bunch of folks to share this experience with. They were psyched for adventure. Several of the students were guys who'd last ridden a couple of decades ago. We had a mother and her son taking the course together. There was a married couple. One gal had gotten her permit from DMV. Her husband promptly sent her off on the Sportster. She then promptly fell down and broke her ankle. Time to regroup and do it right. There was an age mix from late teens to late sixties. My students had great attitudes. They were almost borderline sassy. My kind of group!

Classroom ended Saturday afternoon. There was a threat of snow for that night. You know how these things go. Sometimes everyone makes a big fuss and it turns out to be a non-event. I'd hate to cancel class based on a possibility. Like I told the students, I was walking a fine line. On one hand, I didn't want to waste this opportunity for them. On the other hand, I assured them, we wouldn't ride if it wasn't safe. My instructions were to show up on Sunday morning and we'd decide then based on actual circumstances.

I freaked Katie out Saturday night. My gear was laid out like I always do when I'm getting up and riding early in the mornings.

"You're not riding tomorrow, are you? Today was bad enough but it's supposed to snow tonight!"

Isn't it neat to have someone who cares enough to worry about us? Reluctantly giving in to circumstances, I fired up the truck Sunday morning. After 11 miles of just a cold sprinkle I began to think it was all much ado about nothing. I should have ridden. In another 5 miles I'd changed my tune. The snow kept getting heavier and heavier. By the time I got close to Eugene I was driving on packed snow. On Interstate 5, no less!

Arriving at the range, ( that's a fancy word for the parking lot we practice in ) I found it covered with a few inches of snow. As it was still snowing heavily, it looked like we had no choice but to cancel. I'd have done classroom first to see if it would somehow melt off by lunchtime but that just wasn't going to happen. Time to start making phone calls to see if I could catch students before they headed down. Some of the students actually showed up! I caught a couple who'd looked out the window and gone back to bed.

We'd pulled bikes out since they needed to be refueled for the next class. Then we got distracted. All the while the snow kept falling. You get an idea of the amount that fell. You know, I almost ran the class with a modification. We had a few dual sports. A couple of the bikes in the picture are Yamaha TW200's with those huge knobby tires. I figured to just rotate the students among those bikes. But then we kept losing cones in the snow! No, we didn't really do that but it would have been interesting.

After everything got settled it was time to make the 47 mile trek back up the freeway. Surprisingly, everyone did pretty well. It was basically a one lane road. The slow lane had two mostly clear ruts. Once in a while someone would try to pull to the left and pass. There were some pretty wide eyes when they found out how bad the traction was over there! Soon they'd slip back into line much more content to just follow.

As it turned out, the total snow fall would be around 9 inches. It was the most snow that Eugene had experienced in over a decade. Figures it would be in the middle of my class.

Things have settled down. We got a cold rain today that washed away a lot of snow. I'm sitting in a hotel room in Kirkland, Washington. That's very near to Seattle. The drive up was much better than Sunday's run. Next weekend I have an indoor gig. I'm running a training class for new instructors in how to present the classroom material. Then I get to go home and have Sunday off. Just in time to snuggle with Katie and watch the Super Bowl. That's the kind of thing sane people do isn't it? You'll have to tell me because I wouldn't know!

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Here's your sign!

I was so tempted to make some sort of smart-ass reply to the clerk at Starbucks, followed by "Here's your sign!" Sort of a Bill Engvall in motorcycle gear. I was trying to warm up after a ride and walk in 20 degree weather. Due to how I'd spent the weekend the comment was tackled before it got out of my mouth.

The week leading up to this incident had been interesting. Actually, all my weeks are interesting. Some seem to have a few more unique events than others. Here's a quick rundown.

With the training season starting this coming weekend it seemed time to think about new brakes for Sophie. I've been invited to play during police training again this year. We're scheduled for a few high speed days. There's also quite a few of our advanced training classes at the track on the calendar. Topping that off is a small mistake I made. We were supposed to request classes for the rest of the year. Knowing that the people who do the scheduling use a sort of round-robin method, I requested a lot of classes. My reasoning was that I'd get about half or two thirds of what I asked for. Guess what? For whatever reason they gave me almost all of them. So between classes, police training, and instructor training events, I've got most of my weekends and several Mondays tied up. Since I try to ride to everything maintenance time will be hard to find. Better to get it done now.

By the way, I did manage to keep July open. There's a long bike trip in the works. Hopefully we'll have some good stories to bring home and tell here.

The good news about riding all year is that it's not too hard to get shop time. You can see in the picture that I'm the only one waiting. It had been a 25 mile ride in the rain. Five minutes after the official opening time, nobody seemed to be in a hurry. That's Mark, a good Honda and BMW mechanic, trudging into work. He'd be the one doing the brakes for me. My plate is so full that I'm having to farm the work out. Things would not go totally smoothly this time.

You know how it is when you've spent countless hours and miles in the saddle of the same bike? I've become so familiar with Sophie that I swear I can literally hear and feel each part of her structure. When I rode her home from the shop it felt like the front wheel wasn't quite right. Turns out the right front caliper was causing a little extra drag on the rotor. It wasn't extreme but more than you would normally expect. Feeling the parts revealed some extra heat. She'd have to go back. More on that in a bit. In the meantime, let me tell you that low speed tight turns on a heavy bike are a little more interesting when your front tire doesn't roll quite like you're used to!

My schedule was so packed that there wasn't time to do more than make a quick phone call to the shop. They told me to come by whenever I was ready. It would be a week before I could do so. In the meantime, a cold front hit us. All the rain turned into ice. A trip South was on the agenda. Normally I'd try to ride. Encountering ice on the freeway was a 50/ 50 proposition. There's a constant balancing act going on. Responsible versus Road Warrior. A person can be so careful that they start missing out on the things that make us grow. Not to mention missing out on a lot of mischievous fun! Having problems with the bike made for a default condition. Sophie's the only choice for riding in bad weather and still hauling what I need. I saw a delivery truck on its side and facing the wrong way on the freeway. Maybe being forced to drive was a good thing. Icy weather lasted a few days.

The bad news was that I couldn't ride to the upcoming Leadership Retreat over a long weekend. This was held up the Columbia River Gorge at McMenamins Edgefield. Writing about this would take a post or two all by itself. Briefly, McMenamins buys old historic properties and turns them into lodges. This one covers 38 acres and was used as a poor farm during The Depression. Some 600 people lived and grew food here. Kitchen workers put out 1800 meals a day. One of the buildings was used as a county jail. Rooms are spartan. Lodgers share multi-stall bathrooms and showers. There's probably one bathroom for every 11 rooms. Separate rooms for men and women, of course! It's actually a good place to go and concentrate.

McMenamins is in the brewery business. Hammerhead and Terminator Stout are a couple of my favorites. Interestingly, there are seven bars of different sorts scattered on the grounds. I like the Red Shed. It was literally a tool shed at one time. There's a stove built into one wall with a real wood fire going. Lighting is from candles on the wall. A dozen people would fill the place to crowded. The subdued atmosphere and close quarters break down barriers pretty quickly. Everyone soon becomes friends or leaves. Beer and brandy probably help out, too, I suppose.

Some of the folks from our motorcycle training program were getting together to talk about leadership. We worked on communication skills and helping others in the program reach out for excellence. Ray and Kyle rode up. These are the two that rode with me on that moonlight ride I wrote the post about last Fall. I wasn't able to be the Third Muskateer. That was rough. We wondering about their ride home as it snowed late in the morning. By afternoon it was slightly wet but not freezing, to their great relief.

A funny thing happened when we went home late Sunday afternoon. I followed Kyle and Ray down the freeway. They live in Corvallis which is near my town. The two were on the bikes and I was in the car. Watching them, I must have mentally been on a bike myself. The only other bike we saw was a red BMW heading Northbound. The guys waved at the rider. Suddenly there was clunk on the window next to my head. My wedding ring hit the glass as I waved at the rider! Strange how firmly embedded habits express themselves.

So that brings me to this morning. Since the shop is closed on Monday I had to wait until today. We're under Arctic air. When I left home the mercury was at 20 degrees ( f ). For the first time since last Winter the electric vest went under the 'Stich. A balaclava kept the pretty face from freezing too much. I was actually quite comfortable. We arrived at the shop before they opened. Turns out I should have called ahead.

Mark wasn't coming in. Somewhere over Sunday or Monday he'd hurt his back. The other mechanic wasn't due until later in the day. Rob, who owns the dealership, and his parts manager came to look at the bike. They agreed there was a problem. That was the good part. Not so good was that I'd either have to come back later or leave the bike a while. I decided to leave the bike overnight. A quick call to Katie confirmed that she'd come get me. Bless her heart. Here I call her up and ask her to change her schedule to drive thirty minutes North. She simply requested that I let her finish breakfast and finish getting together after a shower. Fine by me but I didn't want to sit in the shop for an hour and a half. Katie would get her revenge, by the way. She made me go look at flannel sheets with her. While we're in the big city, you know!

I asked Katie to meet me in downtown Salem at a mall's food court. She knew right where to go. I often call that my field office. When I'm in town I can sit and look out the window at a busy intersection while I make phone calls or work on the laptop. Downtown is a half hour walk or so from the Honda shop. No problem, I like to walk and am still in pretty good shape. Not wanting to leave my gear, plus having no other jacket, I kept the 'Stich jacket and pants on. Carrying my helmet in hand, I walked downtown. I froze more in that walk than I did on the ride. My phone rang several times so at least one hand needed to be out in the open. That's how I arrived at Starbucks. In all my gear and holding my helmet.

After I ordered my coffee, the gal at the counter said,

"Do you ride a motorcycle?"

You can see the temptation to say something like,

"No, I'm just taking a coffee break from a poser fashion show! Here's your sign."

Having spent a long weekend immersed in thinking about more noble things, I held my tongue. I politely replied that I rode. She told me her cousin in the Midwest rode a motorcycle. When I asked if it was a male or female cousin she seemed surprised that I'd asked. Her idea was that only guys rode. We had a short conversation about me being an instructor. The girl was surprised but pleased when I told her how many gals came through the classes. Where my smart-ass reply would have closed the conversation right away, being mild opened up her world a little. I did the right thing by following the high road. It feels good but I don't want to make a habit of that sort of thing!

My phone rang this afternoon. Chad at the shop told me Sophie has a caliper pin that's frozen up. He's trying to work things loose. It didn't seem to be a problem before I took the bike in. We'll see. I'm counting on my long term relationship with this shop to make sure I get treated right. Stay tuned.

Miles and smiles,


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Night riding.

Sorry if you've been surfing over here lately looking for new stuff and not seen any. I'm amazed at how the weeks speed by. Sometimes work takes extra hours. There's kind of a give and take flow to that. My posting activity will reflect the high and low tides of my vocational pursuits, I'm afraid. I've also spent a little more time just tuning out everything but time with Katie. There's a leadership retreat I'm attending this weekend. Our training season starts the weekend after that. So I'm stocking up on time with my sweetie.

Seems like I've been spending a lot of time riding in the dark, lately. Those of you with quick wits and sharp tongues just hold on, there. That first sentence doesn't refer to my mental state. Dark means the absence of daylight. Mornings start early for me. I need to leave home at 6 AM to be at the office by 7:45. We're moving to a larger location so there's been a lot of office time, lately. Isn't it amazing how much stuff accumulates on shelves over time? With the official sunrise time being 7:45 and the sunset happening at 16:55 there's not a lot of daylight for the commute. The good news is that we're gaining around two minutes a day. That means we'll have 35 minutes more daylight by the end of January. The not so good news is that there's still a lot more riding in the dark coming up.

Riding in the dark presents its own challenges. I know I'm not telling you anything new. There are a few things to be concerned about, though. I thought I'd share a couple while they're on my mind.

Communicating to other drivers is critical. One area where we're seeing riders have problems is in getting rear-ended by cars. It's a problem in the daylight, too, but more so at night. Here's a look at the back lights on Sophie. Of course, if I was on the bike you'd see my retroflective vest, too. At least the part that isn't covered by the trunk.

I'm sure Sophie would be embarrassed if she knew I was displaying her rear end on the blog. It's for a noble cause, girl! The point isn't really so much about being visible. It's about how well other drivers can gauge the distance between us and them. A single tail light doesn't help at all with the subject of perspective. You may or may not have thought about this point. Two lights spaced farther apart such as on a car help provide perspective. When two lights look like one, a driver presumes that the vehicle is farther away. Seeing one tail light presents the same picture. Most drivers won't pick up right away on the fact that this is a single track vehicle and may be closer than it appears.

That's really a side point. I rambled a little. Here's the thing I should have gotten to sooner. Why do bikes get rear ended? It's not because they're capable of slowing more quickly than a car. It's the way riders slow down that puts them in a bad spot. Think about how you slow down if you're not in a hurry. Engine braking from downshifting, isn't it? Brake lights never illuminate. Drivers don't expect this. All they know is that suddenly the bike is much closer than it was just a bit ago. Their nasty habit of tailgating adds to the problem. Whether we respect the abilities of drivers or not, we have to talk to them. Flash the brake light as a communication tool. It's a great idea at any time but even more so at night. Talk to traffic clearly and early.

The other thing on my mind has to do with the headlight. Specifically, not over riding the headlight. What does that mean? I can't ride over my own headlight, can I? No, I'm talking about not riding faster than what we can see and react to in the headlight beam. We need to be able to stop within our sight distance. Most riders are guilty of over riding the light. Here's some interesting things to think about.

We know that generally the speeds at night should be lower. Just how low? Here's a picture I took Tuesday night in a parking lot. It gives you sort of an idea of how far the light beam extends.

The way the headlight beam is adjusted on Sophie, it extends about 160 feet. There's enough light to sort of illuminate things farther out but I can't readily identify them out there. Don't get hung up on specific details. Your results may vary depending upon the bike's light. There's also ambient lighting from streetlights, other vehicles, etc. For this journey put yourself on a country road where the only source of light is on the front of the bike.

What speed would you be riding at to be able to stop within your sight distance?

At 60 mph you'd be covering 88 feet per second. On a non-ABS bike it will take you about 177 feet to stop. That's based on our extensive on-bike research done in conjunction with the State Police. We needed to come up with standards for our high speed police motors training. If Sophie's light beam extends 160 feet there's no way I'd stop in time even if my reactions were instantaneous. So that's too fast.

At 40 mph you'd be covering 60 feet per second. Your stopping standard would be 79 feet. Isn't it interesting how much an extra twenty miles per hour increases the stopping distance? By the way, the stopping standard is based on situations with decent traction. Not the icy roads we've had around here the past few mornings.

Let's go back to 60 feet per second and the 79 foot stopping distance. That's just about the breaking even point. If my reaction time is one second I've travelled 60 feet. Add 79 feet for stopping and that puts me at a total distance of 139 feet. That gives me a tiny bit of cushion but not much.

What I want you to take away from this is an increased awareness, I guess. Riders shouldn't be paranoid. That wouldn't be healthy. Remember, though, just because you're not paranoid doesn't mean that people aren't out to get you! Seriously, there's so much that I see riders taking for granted. So few understand what really goes on with motorcycle dynamics. What they don't know can literally hurt them. It makes me feel better to try to share what I've learned. Hope you all don't mind when I take a detour from stories and put on the trainer hat. I always presume that riders would prefer to be excellent rather than just competent if given the chance.

Here's a bonus question.

What clues will you have that you're over riding your headlight?

I'll put the answer in the comment section later. Although I'm pretty sure you'll get it pretty quickly!

Miles and smiles


Thursday, January 10, 2008

If a tree falls in the forest....

This is just a sort of quick and humorous thought for the day.

Yesterday morning I was riding up the freeway in the dark. With the official sunrise being a little before 8 AM that's pretty typical. Sophie and I are settled pretty well into the hammer lane. If possible, I try to cruise just a little faster than prevailing traffic. Being prudent, of course. So the fast lane is where I spend a lot of time.

During one stretch there was this tiny little car behind me. It looked like a slightly overgrown golf cart. Seriously. I've seen different ones around but never on the freeway. It was too dark to get a good look and they never went around me. Instead, the little car pulled over two lanes and took the Woodburn exit. While the car was following me it was close enough behind to be considered tailgating. Traffic was heavy enough all I could really do was increase my own following distance.

As I'm keeping an eye on this little car an old story came to mind. One time I was helping an old man who'd stumbled in the crosswalk while crossing the street. As I dusted him off I was pulling him towards the sidewalk. I warned the old man about a VW bug coming along. The old man responded by saying, "What's it going to do? Crawl up my leg and kick me to death?"

Thinking back to this little car, the question about a tree falling in the forest and nobody being around to hear it came to mind. Then it transferred to this tiny little car. I know that anything can make an impact. Still, it's a whimsical question.

If you're riding a bike and being tailgated by one of these tiny little cars, are you really being tailgated?

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

"Heck's Angels" at the music store.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I wanted a picture of Sophie in front of a music store. It's for an upcoming post. You'll just have to wait a bit to see what that post will be about. There was a brief bit of sunshine before the big storm blew in on Friday. I hadn't seen any other bikes until I stopped here. Then I met Don. He and I would have an interesting experience with the music store clerk.

The parking lot was empty when I pulled in. On the left side of the building was a recessed spot. It was filled with a blue colored beat up Vanagon. Since the customer parking was empty, I pulled a tight turn and backed Sophie up against the curb. Pulling out my camera, I started snapping pictures, looking for good angles that showed the bike and sign. One of these days I'm going to have to get over being timid and shy, I guess!

Not long after I started taking pictures, the front doors opened. A skinny guy with a scraggly reddish beard peaked out. He looked like he hasn't seen much sunlight in his twenty some years. As you can see in the picture, the windows are mirrored. The interior of the store must look like a cave. The first glimpse I got of the clerk was of his head sticking out between the two doors. I explained a little about what I was doing. Mr. Nocturnal started to pull his head back in. About that time a new Honda XR650L pulled in. I assumed it was a customer.

The XR rider told me it was good to see another bike out. I seconded that statement. Mr. Nocturnal disappeared back inside the store. I briefly chatted with the other rider and then invited him to move his bike over by Sophie for a photo. After telling him about my blog and that I'd use his picture, he readily obliged. You see the result above. After he pulled off his helmet and gloves I stuck my hand out and introduced myself. He said his name was Don. The reason for his trip was to pay his insurance on the bike. It's always interesting to meet another rider but this encounter would prove to be entertaining above and beyond that.

Don's a truck driver who had the Summer and Fall off. I'm guessing he was between jobs and could afford to enjoy the break. Lucky dog! His '08 Honda had been purchased mid-Summer and now had nearly four thousand miles on it. Most of that had been on the kind of roads this Honda was built for. Long days had been spent on small roads winding among the Cascade mountains.

My new acquaintance is a relatively inexperienced rider. Just enough to be comfortable but not having faced many abnormal situations, yet. This day's wind was proving to be one of those unusual situations. Don lives a little ways out of town. His ride in had been spent trying to second guess wind gusts. He commented on how much big trucks, trees, and buildings changed the wind. Don was worried that a big wind would wash out his front wheel. He was concerned about having to "play pattycake with the asphalt", as he put it. I told him that probably wouldn't be a real problem. He'd have to worry more about being pushed all over the road and into other traffic. I'm not sure if I put his mind at ease or not!

Don told me he was starting a new driving gig with Sherman Brothers Heavy Trucking. I used to ride by there every day on the way to work in Springfield. One of the yard bosses told Don that some guys would strap their bikes on the truck. Right behind what he called the "headache rack". Suddenly the idea of long hauls and layovers seemed a lot more appealing!

I shared a few tales of my own. By now we'd been chatting for about fifteen minutes or so. My watch dial's telling me we're well into the lunch hour. There's nobody in the parking lot but us two troublemakers. At least, that's what Mr. Nocturnal seems to have decided we are. He comes out his dark cave again to confront us. Well, sort of.

You see, I'm sure he really wants to just tell us to leave. A lack of intestinal fortitude is holding him back. Don turns out not to be a customer. He'd merely seen my bike and stopped to visit a spell. Neither of us is buying anything, but neither are we hurting anything. The fact that we're there at all seems to be bugging Mr. Nocturnal.

If a person wants to confront me, they should just do it. Don't insult my intelligence in the process. Mr. Nocturnal starts telling us how we're taking up his precious parking spots. What? Two bikes in the same spot surrounded by empty spaces? Nonetheless, he tells us that the lot can suddenly get full. I put my black Ray Ban's back on. Then I give Mr. Nocturnal a stone faced stare. You know, the cop thing. I keep it up until the clerk starts to squirm in his trenchcoat. Yeah, he's got one of those. He heads for the Vanagon and drives away. Presumably there's still someone inside the store as the doors remain unlocked. I really wanted to take a picture of the clerk but I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have been happy about it, let alone give me permission to use it!

Don's cracking up. How can two guys on Hondas be such a threat? How can two bikes in one spot be taking up all the parking? I'm wondering what was really going on with Mr. Nocturnal. It would be interesting to take a look inside his head. As we mount up and cheerfully take leave of each other, Don sums it up.

"Who does he think we are? Heck's Angels that are going to tear the place up?"

I hope Don got out of town and home before the really bad winds hit.

Miles and smiles,


Monday, January 07, 2008

Blowin' in the wind.

I had a variety of things on my list for Friday. There wasn't any rush. As long as Friday evening saw them checked off I'd be good to go for next week. The good news was that it gave me a lot of flexibility for riding. Routes and time spent were mine to pick. The bad news was that we're in the middle of yet more storms blowing in. Heavy rains and high winds are slamming the West Coast. Northern California's getting heavy snow. An 82 mile stretch of Interstate 84 in Eastern Oregon would end up being closed for hours on Friday. Seems the wind was blowing over the big truck trailers.

Trailers aren't all that are blowing over. Big trees in soggy ground are kissing the earth. Power lines get caught up in their branches and come down with them. Mud slides are becoming common in the Coast Range. Road crews gravelled their hearts out during last week's freezing temperatures. Every city intersection and rural curve is full of rocks. Gusts of 49 mph would be recorded this day. Was I going to ride anyway? Oh yeah, baby. Bring it on!

I started with a little trip to the local UPS depot. This new Givi trunk is proving valuable for increasing what I can haul. As I'm leaving UPS their sign at the gate caught my eye.

I laugh at the sign. I'm on a bike and I don't need no stinkin' seatbelt! By the end of the day I'd be eating my words. There will come a time in the afternoon that a seatbelt to help hold me on the bike would be welcome. It will be a day that tests the Ironman.

The next stop was at a music store. A blog post on riding skills is rambling around in my head. As an illustration I wanted a picture of the bike in front of a music store. That sort of describes my approach to photos. They're more of a tool than art. None of the great photographers have much to fear from me.

At the music store I met a really strange clerk and another rider who stopped to chat with me. This makes an interesting story all by itself. Look for it in a later post. It's time right now to go find some back roads on the way to cross off the next item on my list.

Up until now it's been a somewhat promising day weatherwise. Storms are forecast for later. Friday morning, though, saw light rain giving way to a little sunshine. The Weather Gods, ever vigilant for opportunities to mess with riders, were using the sun as bait. Winter sun like this warms the muscles of the right hand and wrist. Before you know it, you're far away from home. Beware!

This is a photo of what we call Snow Peak. You can see how low the snow level is. There's no snow down here, but the temperature stays in the thirties. By now the wind has picked up just a little. The skies are getting slightly darker. I'm parked on the edge of Lickskillet Road. Yes, this is an area settled by farm folks. My little point and shoot camera is sitting on the trunk of the bike. I'm zoomed in just as far as the camera will allow. It's hard enough to hold it still as it is, but the wind gusts are bumping the camera, too.

Have you ever ridden on the skirts of an incoming storm? I find it very invigorating. Maybe it's the way the electrical charge in the air changes. Wind gusts are still playful. They really haven't gotten down to business, yet. This storm is coming up from the South. Little by little I can feel the air temperature rising. Soon it will be in the low 40's. My riding is reflecting the playfulness of the wind. Tennessee School Road loosely follows the Santiam River. There's a series of 15 and 30 mph curves laid out like snakes resting nose to tail. I've ridden countless miles in all kinds of weather. Experience tells me I'll pay for this fun later. No matter. This is too sweet of a time to let impending doom ruin it.

Look straight up from the telephone pole. There's a bright spot covered by a dark cloud. Minutes ago I could clearly see the sun behind a gray haze. Now it's disappeared. There's no doubt this storm's planning a serious advance. I'm still not concerned. Like I say, I've ridden in all kinds of weather. Dark skies don't put me off. As I put the camera away, another aspect of the storm begins to make itself felt. Water drops are starting to fall. This isn't the main army, only the advance scouts. I'll feel the full effect of the liquid army soon enough.

Earlier the wind was playful. Now it's building strength. It reminds me of playing with a tiger cub. For a while it's fun. Eventually the cub grows up and realizes how strong it really is. There's still playful times but now you have to be really respectful of that power. My tiger cub was quickly growing into a full grown predator.

This was the beginning. I'm heading for Lebanon. It's more or less a bedroom community for the larger cities around. The rain's starting to come down much harder. I'm finally forced to lower my visor because the drops sting so badly on my face. There's no mistaking the increasing wind speed when I look at the flags in the VFW Hall parking lot.

It's sheltered in the parking lot. I'm on the North side of the building and the storm's coming from the South. I know this storm's getting very close. I can feel the intensity building. It's time for a decision. Part of me urges that we take the direct route towards home. The Ironman Road Warrior derides me for even thinking of capitulating. We've already agreed on a route that would take us farther South before we head for the hearth. Bravado won. I would come to briefly regret it within the next hour.

I spun the compass needle to Southwest and headed out of town. There's an old road that used to be the route to Brownsville. A newer road was built that was more conducive to car traffic. In other words, it's much straighter than the old road. For a while the old road heads uphill, providing some pleasant twisties along the way. Once over the top of the hill, though, I lost the protection the small butte provided. Suddenly, it felt like someone was pushing hard on the front of the bike. I'm riding at 50 mph and the winds were gusting at nearly the same speed. I expected to look at the fuel gauge needle and see it moving quickly towards empty. We were expending a lot of energy to make forward progress.

Near Brownsville I doubled back North, heading for Ridge Drive. Ridge is an East-West road that will connect me to Tangent. That's a very small place South of where I live. Heading North was a unique experience. Now that I had a Southern tailwind, things got much quieter on the bike. Have you ever been up in a hot air balloon? You're floating with the air curents so there's no wind noise as you move. With a tail wind of nearly the same speed I was travelling, the same kind of thing happened. I could hear the tires splashing the water off the road. I could hear the front tire scrubbing as I stopped. The brake discs made their own music on the rotors. It was entertaining. Until I turned on Ridge Drive and headed West, that is.

Now I'm in almost the worst possible position to manage the wind gusts and rain. Due to my earlier decision to stick to the route, I'm facing miles and miles of this. Since I'm riding West the wind's hitting me full on my left side. These are gusts of nearly 50 mph. What's really bad is the way they're hitting me. It seems like a hundred years ago since I went through law enforcement training. I still remember, though, the sessions dealing with hand to hand combat. We were trained to throw a punch but pull it at the end. It delivers a harder blow. This wind had probably gone through the same training. Instead of just pushing me, it would land hammer blows.

Gusts are so close together as to be almost continuous. It's like being in a ring with a boxer who has fast hands. Brutal and effective. All around me is open farm country. There's nothing to stop the wind. All this space lets it build up speed as it rushes to attack me. I have no choice but to absorb the hits and keep riding.

It's about now I'm thinking about seat belts. Actually, I'm wondering why I chose to be out here in the first place. There haven't been too many times when I've come to the conclusion I really shouldn't be here. This was one of those times.

The photo doesn't really do the situation justice. Just before this stretch I'd crossed up onto an overpass. Winds always change on bridges and overpasses. Mostly for the worse. A rider has to expect it and prepare accordingly. Take a firmer grip on the bars and leave as much space cushion as possible. The guardrail and cement barrier to my right kept looming closer and closer. No matter what, don't look there. Keep looking where you need the bike to go.

When you ride in any windy situation you need to keep a firm grip on the bars. If there's a steady wind, lean into it. Remember that buildings, overpasses, and the like, will block the wind for a bit. Adjust as needed. Look at things around you for clues as to what the wind's doing. Stay alert and be ready to hold on.

I almost didn't stop the bike to take the picture. In the photo you can see a stretch where the rain is being driven across the road. What you can't see is the way the bike shudders with each gust. The bike's leaned into the wind and I'm standing on the right side, just in case. You can't hear the wind howling in the big tree to the left. You can see a few branches in the top left of the picture. This is a huge oak tree. I know, dumb place to park the bike. You take what shelter you can get. Be prepared to move quickly if the tree starts over. The photo gives no sensation of the rain being flung against your body. After I got back onto the bike I encountered a mailman coming at me from the opposite direction. He was in one of those small Jeep rigs they drive. I received a small wave. The expression on his face was a puzzled one. You can imagine what he was puzzled about!

After what seems like forever I'm able to turn back North for a while. What a relief! One more run towards the West will be coming. This one should be better. The South side of this road has a lot of closely packed houses lining it. You can see the road turning to the left just ahead of the bike in this picture. That will take me onto my last run at right angles to the wind. Judging by the sign, though, it's a corner I might not want to take. It seems to be telling me, "Turn this corner and you're going down, Son!"

I arrived home a little battered but still grinning. I told Katie it was an awesome ride. There was a moment of dismay as I noticed the Clinton had come to get his bike. He's starting to show some of my traits when it comes to riding. That may be good or bad. Turns out Clinton stayed in town. I was happy about that. He got to gain some experience in bad weather but was a little more protected. When Clinton arrived back at my house I invited him to stay for supper. After all, bench racing over a lasagna dinner's a great way to end a riding day. Wet gear hangs up to dry as we tell our tales of adventure. How cool is that?

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, January 03, 2008


It's still raining. It's rained for thirty of the last thirty six days. I'm not speaking against the rain here. Nor am I complaining. Not when I read that Southern Michigan is getting record snowfall, for instance. Merely setting the background for this post. Monday and Tuesday brought two fairly dry days. The last time we had two dry days in a row was well before Thanksgiving, according to the weatherman on Channel 6. After my last post, I decided I had better get out and ride. It doesn't pay to mess with the Weather Gods. When they give you a break you'd better take advantage of it. Snubbing Them can lead to punishment beyond your wildest dreams!

I pushed my luck with Them on Monday by not riding. Sunday night's rain had frozen onto the roads overnight. Print and television news were filled with pictures of crashes and vehicles upside down. There was no sun, only grey, cold, fog. Things didn't look to improve so I stayed put. Tuesday was better. By 1 PM there was a teasing glimpse of sunshine. It was still cold, being in the upper thirties. There's snow in the low foothills. Climbing two hundred feet in any direction would take me to it. My point and shoot digital camera just won't zoom enough to take good pictures of the snow covered trees. Maybe it's time to upgrade.

Speaking of pictures, I had this almost out-of-body experience. I was sitting on the edge of the road just communing with the landscape. It was quiet around me. To my right was a grove of filbert trees. I guess you all know them as hazelnuts. It was cool looking at the branches. No leaves or fruitage, just branches. I took the picture you see below. Soon my gaze moved left and I saw this big puddle. Reflected in the water were the empty hop vine supports. Suddenly, as if the spirit of Steve Williams was filling me, I saw it. Here was a chance to actually Make A Photo!!

It was a lot of work, let me tell you. First I had to ride Sophie around the corner and park her on the wrong side of the road. Then I walked clear back to where I started, fervently hoping the road would stay quiet of traffic ( it didn't ). Once the Sears delivery truck passed, I used what little I know of setting the stage, then pressed the shutter button. Sophie looks like she's heading into the picture and the horizon's in the upper third. That exhausts my knowledge. Things didn't turn out too, bad, I have to say. Then I had to walk clear back to Sophie. A gentleman in a red Chevy pickup came by and stopped. He asked me if I was ok. God bless him and his giving spirit. May it be returned to him with interest.

I've set the photo as the desktop for my laptop. Seems fitting at the first of 2008 to reflect a little while looking at the scene. Like many of you, I'm not much for New Year's resolutions. If a person's going to make changes, there's got to be a compelling reason. That reason can happen any time and that's the time to make the change. Right then, not waiting for January 1. Still, there's a couple of things on my mind I'd like to share. One's a reminder and the other's a slight shift in focus.

The reminder is to keep looking at the big picture. As in riding, we tend to go where we look in life, too. Think about people around us. Some focus on petty and small things. Compare their disposition and accomplishments to those who have a larger picture. Maybe you could even call it vision. Staying focused on a distant target keeps us heading where we desire to go. Details are important, of course. The trick is keep them in a supporting role and not let them become the actual target.

Looking into the picture of the trees, for example, the small branches are just filler among the larger branches. The larger branches lead to the trunks. Individual trees, in turn, are part of the larger landscape. If we were to solely concentrate on the little branches we'd end up lost in them. Trouble is, our human natures seem to keep wanting us to focus on the little branches. We miss out on all the rest of the good stuff if we don't keep reminding ourselves that they're just branches. Here's an example from my life.

I spend a lot of time among other drivers. I'm continually frustrated by them. Having always been one to hold to high standards, I expect the same of others. Not content to be merely "good" I try to be "excellent". Sure, I can't master everything at once. So I prioritize a long list. Things like driving, riding, and interpersonal relationships are high on the list. Mastering html and making this blog look a lot better are lower down. By the time I'm 232 years old I figure I'll be through my list if nothing else gets added.

An ugly fact is that most drivers aren't very good. At best, they're incompetent. At worst, they're felony stupid and dangerous. Try as I might, I can't fathom why they don't feel any urge to get better. After all, they're at the wheel of a potentially lethal weapon. Shouldn't that be a reason by itself for learning to actually control it well? There's also a lot of riders who fall into the same category. Unfortunately, those folks tend to take care of the problem by accidently removing themselves from the gene pool. Car drivers don't always pay such an immediate and high price. So they continue in their lackluster performance.

As much as I'd like to shake these drivers awake, I know I'm not going to be able to change them. Getting frustrated and angry only robs me of energy better spent elsewhere. At worst, showing anger to one bad driver can distract me from protecting myself from the other bad driver. I'm renewing my resolve to accept the situation. I'll treat them as a hazard on my radar and let the rest go. There's an old redneck saying,

"Never try to teach a pig to sing. It annoys the pig and wastes your time".

Besides, Katie says if I don't quit my bitchin' she's going to whack me up alongside the head with my own helmet. She'd probably do it, too. After I bought her diamonds, and everything, too! Which, by the way, she really liked.

The shift in approach has to do with leadership.

I've always been one of those natural born leaders. I also have an ego. I know, hard to imagine. What happens is that I do big things. Call it hotdogging, swashbuckling, or whatever. Ride in the snow? No problem, just watch. Too cold for you? Move aside, lightweight. Hustle an ST1100 flat out around the racetrack? Try to keep up. I'm one of three people in the state certified to do anything our training program does? What else you got? You can see my ego peeking out when I say I really like being larger than life.

Others follow my lead. Mostly what I hear is "I want to be just like him when I grow up!" A lot of my leadership has been in getting others inspired to follow in my footsteps. There's more to it than that. It's that "more" that I want to explore this year.

I came across something this fall. Somebody said that a great leader was one who brought out the greatness in those around them. A lot of people have greatness inside them, they just need to have it coached out of them.

Each year there's a crop of new instructors looking for that greatness. There's more experienced instructors who still haven't found it. I spend a lot of time working at training folks. We have experienced folks who act as Mentors to newer ones. Less experienced people are always being shown the way by those with more experience. Much of it takes the form of "Let me show you what worked for me".

My goal is to slightly change the process. In other words, I'll still leave footsteps for others to follow. Along the path, though, we're going to work on finding greatness on your own, rather than just have you follow me. Instead of a directional beacon, I'll act more like a mirror where you can assess your own progress. In turn, you will help someone else find their own greatness. A subtle shift, but so powerful.

Our children, people we work with, new riders, folks in civil organizations, the list is endless. All seeking a way to find and show the best in themselves. There's no shortage of opportunity.

Make no mistake, I'll still be a hard core Road Warrior and hot-dogging Cowboy. That's not likely to change anytime soon, I assure you. I just have this desire to concentrate on being a more effective Mentor and leader.

2008 looms ahead of us. It's exciting. There's some neat things to look forward to. Life will bring its own share of stories. Adventure beckons!

Miles and smiles,