The Absence of Presence – Part Three

Continued from:
Part One
Part Two

Sunday’s visit was “better,” all things being relative. She was more alert and I’m fairly certain she did recognize me at times. Dad wondered if taking in photos of me when I was younger might stir some recognition, so I went through and found a few representative pictures, including one of the two of us together when I was eight or nine.

When I arrived, she was sitting in her Jerry chair in the community room. There were perhaps eight or so other patients in there, sitting alone or around a table, and Mom was off to the side, staring off into whatever her mind was trying to show her. I pulled up a chair and sat next to her.

I laid the photos on her tray. She clutched at them, almost reflexively, but did not hold them up herself. I held them up, one by one, explaining the photos were of me, of her and me together, and I think she might have had a second or two of recognition there.

Due to background noises, my bad hearing, and her quiet volume, I could not hear or understand most of what she said. Once home, I imported the video I took into Adobe Premiere Pro and amplified the volume. I think she said at one time, “hug me… if you can…” but I did not hug her because I couldn’t hear what she was saying. Heart-breaking. Of course I would have, had I heard. Once, she said fairly clearly, “help me.” Oh, my, I wish I could.

To be completely honest, there were a few moments when I thought I should end it all for her by gently, ever-so-gently, holding a pillow over her face until she quietly suffocated to death. It would not take much, or long. However, I realized that forensic science (should that be called upon,) would quickly discover the cause of her death, and I certainly did not want to spend any time in prison, even for such a crime of compassion. I thought about suggesting to the nurses they give her “a little extra PRN” (as-needed morphine doses,) and very quickly realized that was just a terrible idea.  This was Mom’s path to walk alone; no one else could legally help her along.

One thing she asks often is “why…?” At times, it seems like a full question unto itself, at others it seems like she has something more to add but then trails off after the first word. I don’t know whether she’s asking why in general, or why about something specific, but there is no answer I can give her. There’s no good reason for any of it, other than pure human frailty being a motherfucker sometimes.

She manages to communicate snippets, incomplete thoughts. Not long after I arrived, she mumbled something about “my sisters,” but I don’t know what she was saying or asking about them. She has two younger twin sisters, only one of whom has she seen in recent times.

“I want you to stay…” she later said, I think to me, but wasn’t sure.

She is typically very agreeable – when someone makes a suggestion or asks her a question, her response is often a weak, simple, “okay,” with an lift at the end, like a small child. Unless she really doesn’t want the thing being suggested, and then there will be a “no…” with varying degrees of intensity.

I wonder where she is in her head, what she sees, what she believes to be true.

I settled in for this last visit, and, like millions of children before me, I reversed our roles and wiped my mother’s nose; I helped get her fed and changed and bathed; I soothed her to sleep with my voice as I stroked her hair. I thought of singing her a song my parents made up for me when I was a toddler, but didn’t think I could bear it myself.

Perhaps the most important thing about this visit was Forgiveness, and I thought long and hard before saying anything about that to her. I weighed out the pros and cons of lying versus actually being able to forgive versus not saying anything at all. I don’t know that I can forgive her – I don’t even know all the things I need to forgive her for, there’s so much. Then again, this person in front of me was not the same person who committed all those acts of maternal treason years and years ago.

Yet how do I forgive a person who cannot remember the things that she’s done to me? How could I not? I know that forgiveness is as much for me as it is for the person receiving it, but my own benefit has never really been a good motivator for me. If it were a lie, it would be for her, and how could I begrudge her that?

I don’t even know that it was a true thing when I said I loved her. It’s been so long since I’ve thought of her with any shred of positive emotion that I no longer actively feel the love for her as my mother. What I felt was compassion and kindness and despair for a fellow human being who was suffering and who should be let go. I felt a generic sort of love for a now-gentle and helpless person. Subconsciously, of course, I’m sure all sorts of havoc was being wreaked.

I cried or struggled not to cry a lot on Sunday. I’m sure some of the tears were related to the painful past we shared, and, to some degree, acknowledging that my mother was in fact dying no matter how estranged we might be. The first time I really felt certain she recognized me was … profound, I suppose. It wasn’t long after I arrived Sunday, when we were still sitting in the community room. Our eyes locked, and hers seemed clearer for a moment. She clutched at my hands, reached out on her own and touched my face. Not long after, I cried a full-fledged cry, surrounded by strangers in various degrees of suffering, in various degrees of awareness and lucidity. One of the nurses kindly and silently brought me a box of tissues when she saw me, and her compassion renewed my tears.

I thought to apologize to her, but I realized that crying in situations like this is normal and natural and healthy. Nothing to be ashamed of, although I am always ashamed when I cry in front of other people. My traditional “Stuff all the feelings down just like this casserole” Midwestern upbringing forbids ugly crying in public or in front of … well, in front of anyone, really.

Here, however, it would probably be more peculiar if I did not cry. In the face of this kind of suffering in any living being, how could anyone not be moved to tears? What kind of monster would not cry upon seeing her own mother in such a state?

In the end, everything is stripped away, everything but the most basic needs, the most basic thoughts, the most basic feelings, wants, desires. The need for human contact, the need for physical comfort, the need to be cared for and reassured. There’s nothing left of any residual badness or evil or unkindness from the past; all of that has been cleaved away leaving this empty husk, a bare shell of a woman who seems very sweet, very gentle… and full of needless suffering. So much pain.

Her former business partner and close friend wrote some kind words about Mom to my aunt, and I realized once again how the outside world knows a very different Lynn than I did. No one else experienced her as a mother, and most people from her public persona would never believe the things she said or did. How could such a kind, generous, sweet, compassionate woman be so cruel? Because untreated Borderline Personality Disorder, that’s how. She was both personae, now she is neither… though she is closer to her public persona than her private. This is a good thing for her and for everyone around her.

She’s obviously suffering so much. She is in constant discomfort, even while she’s sleeping, and she is obviously distressed in her thoughts as well as in her physical sensations.

My mantra while there – “no one deserves this.”

Coming Soon: Part Four

 

The Absence of Presence – Part Two

Continued from Part One:

This photo shows, starkly, the overall tone and sentiment of my visit with Mom Sunday, the second day. Both of us overshadowed by the agony of her affliction.

One of the fears I had about visiting her was of making things worse. If she did recognize me, would it cause her stress, anxiety, too much excitement? What if she did recognize me, and was reassured that I was there… and then I was suddenly gone? Would that traumatize her anew? These were among many fears and concerns I had to stare down in their red, beady eyes.

I’ve read about how people try to interact with dementia patients, though it was suddenly very starkly clear I was unprepared for this. Things are different when it’s personal. Things are different when 48 years of life and experience are scattered and flung to the four winds, leaving me standing alone in the barren field of her dementia. She was there, but not there, caught in some purgatorial hinterlands of her own failing mind.

I knelt before her, having no idea where to start.

“Mom? Hi. Hi, it’s me, it’s Erin. I’m your daughter.” I managed a weak smile. She was fairly sedated, and could not keep her eyes open for long. When they were open,  it was difficult to get her eyes focused on me (or on anything, for that matter.) After awhile, same nurse who told Mom I was here knelt with me before her chair with the tray removed. She took Mom’s hand and put it on my face and took a very authoritative, loud tone.

“Lynn, Lynn – your daughter is here. Your daughter is here. She came to see you. Touch her, hug her! She’s here and she loves you!”

I had not yet said “I love you,” and I wouldn’t for awhile. I didn’t want to lie, and I didn’t know whether it was true. I was still trying to adjust to this wretched figure before me being my mother.

I had the feeling the nurses’s words were as much for my benefit as for Mom’s; she didn’t know our history, she only knew Mom had been asking for me and that I had never visited. She kept trying, kept putting mom’s hand on my face, kept trying to get her eyes to open and focus.

Then, after getting virtually no response from Mom, she said to me, “Oh my God, her brain is just gone, it’s gone.” Mom’s hand fumbled on my face and neck limply and without much response. “Lynn! Touch your daughter, she came to see you from California. Lynn! Lynn! Your daughter loves you!” This was the first time I came to tears – the kindness of the nurse, coupled with her stark words, mixed with the enormity of our relationship, of the situation.

My mother’s house was a very nice two-story Colonial in a good neighborhood, full of her books and beloved possessions. Here, she was sharing a room with another dementia patient, with only a few scattered belongings to remind her of home: Some photos, my old deacon’s bench that held my toys for so many years, one of her favorite paintings, a few knick-knacks on a bookshelf. Nothing more.

Mom walks almost continuously. If she is not sleeping, she wants to walk. This is apparently common in dementia patients, and in her case, they believe she is looking for me. She very frequently talks about “my daughter, I have to find my daughter,” and worries about me being in some kind of danger relating to water.

Sunday morning, my dad told me of a time when I was 4 years old and we were at Lake Michigan camping on the sand dunes. My mother was back at the campsite, while Dad and I were playing on the beach. I took it upon myself to wander off, he thinks maybe back toward the campsite, but I didn’t know my way and I got lost. I was only away from my parents for maybe 10-15 minutes at most, he said. However my mother was in an absolute panic, and I’m certain it felt like a small eternity to her and probably to my father as well. He wondered (and now I do as well) if that’s where she thinks she is, and why she feels like I’m in danger and need rescuing. Cruel. Stuck not in happy times from her past, but horrible ones.

We got her laid out on her bed, only ever so briefly before she struggled to get up again and resume her endless march, and I looked over her tiny body closely.

I recognized the mole on the back of her left calf, and not much else. Her face… no. Her entire person… no. There was no visible sign of my mother. She had been devoured, erased by this disease.

I went through the video, grabbing still shots and editing them, finding ways to express how she had faded away:

She was kept fairly medicated for pain, as she had fallen recently and had a huge, awful bruise all over the right side of her bottom and back of her right thigh. Because of the physical pain, she often wore an expression of anguish, which I amplified in some to show the awful, ugly reality:

One of the wonderful caretakers told me she had recently gotten Mom to smile and dance a little bit, but her dancing was just moving her shoulders back and forth. I was happy to hear she had a moment of fun. She told me that before Mom took a radical turn for the worse, she had a friend, Phil, on the floor who would walk with her. They would sometimes stop and kiss. Sweet.

The patience of these women was profoundly humbling; I could never hold a candle to a one of them. It is exhausting and difficult to keep track of my mother as she carries on in her search which will always only end in failure to find her goal. She can no longer walk alone, she has to be accompanied so she doesn’t fall.

Trying to get her into bed, even when she is literally falling asleep on her feet, is impossible. She has a nearly superhuman strength, apparently also common with dementia. It took everything I had to try to keep her lying down, or to get her to lie down – it was impossible without hurting her.

They could restrain her, it would be the easiest thing for them, but instead… they walk with her. They ask her questions, they try to get her to engage.  When all else fails and they must attend to someone else, they sedate her further and wait. Her tolerance is so high, they have to dose her repeatedly to get her to calm or sleep. She seems to be more comfortable in her Jerry chair than in bed, so we try and try again to seat her for more than 30 seconds at a time.

She wants her hands held almost all the time, she wants human contact, and reaches for every hand she sees. While she was lying down quietly for a rare moment, I held her hand for the first time.

After awhile, convinced I would keep close watch, they left me alone with her to walk the halls. Eventually, I closed us in her room, because she was so medicated that when she stopped to turn around at the end of the hall, she stooped over asleep. I wanted to keep her close to her bed and chair, and so we walked in circles around her room. She would sometimes try to open the door, but I held it shut. She shuffled to the other end of the room and seemed to look at the photos on the bookshelf or out the window, but I don’t think her eyes actually saw anything external. I’m fairly sure her eyes were closed, and when her grasping fingers touched upon and gently held the picture frames, she was only keeping herself upright as she fought the many milligrams of morphine.

At one point, she said, “itch my back,” and I thought maybe she recognized me at that moment because she would make that request of me sometimes, but perhaps not. Saturday was mostly just incoherent walking. I talked to her a little, and, when she was clearly in physical agony or was excessively worried about something going on in her head, I would reflexively say, “everything is ok.” What an exceptional lie. Nothing was ok. Absolutely nothing at all was “ok” in her world of turmoil.

I left after perhaps four hours, after which time I was exhausted. It was not a productive or satisfying visit in any way, I had not reached her at all. It was only ceaseless shuffling and struggling, punctuated by seconds of calmness. I went home to my dad and step-mom’s house to ponder, to recover, to wonder.

Continue Reading: Part Three

The Absence of Presence – Part One

I began writing this on November 6th while I was back in Michigan. Things have happened since then, and will be in the next few posts.


My mother is dying.

For many of you, this statement strikes a powerful and poignant chord in your hearts as you envision how you would feel were your own mother dying, or as you remember how you did feel when she passed. I empathize with you deeply, and envy you having a relationship with your mother that was different from me with mine.

My mother has Borderline Personality Disorder, which brings with it histrionic, manipulative, and generally cruel behaviors. While she stopped short of physical abuse, the emotional and psychological abuses were vicious. Because I didn’t know how dysfunctional our family was until I was in my thirties, I felt “close” to my mother for a few decades before realizing what we had was not closeness at all, but a wildly co-dependent relationship. I was the very definition of a preoccupied child.

My mother raised me to be both ego-maniacal and incredibly insecure. Depending upon her mood, I was both the best and worst possible child a mother could ever have, and I’ve written about that elsewhere on this blog. To this day, I still wrestle with low self-esteem, body dysmorphia, and other psychological and emotional issues as a result of her unceasing, relentless judgment. Fortunately for me, a gang of wonderful millennials taught this old dog some new interpersonal and personal tricks, and I’ve been so enriched by following their example. Thus, anyone who denigrates millennials as a whole will receive an entire earful from me about “not all millennials,” and how my particular kids have given me a lot of hope for the future of our species.

I don’t remember why she was crying here, but this was before The Great Schism.

In 2010, my mother was in a very minor 5mph car accident in which she hit her head including a direct blow to her Broca’s area on the driver’s side window, which left her with very bad paraphasia, visual disturbances (including the inability to make sense of written words or letters,) bad coordination, and terrible memory issues. Her life was irrevocably altered in an instant due to the misconduct of one reckless driver, as was my ability to reconcile any issues from my childhood with her – she simply did not remember them, and, cruelly, could not remember why I resented her so much. She only remembered the happy times, whereas I mostly remembered the bad.

I’ll spare you the lengthy details of the ensuing legal battles with her insurance company, but suffice to say she was completely screwed from every quarter. Despite the fact we had not spoken in over two years, I became her legal Guardian and Conservator, as well as her primary caretaker for over a year. It was unpleasant for both of us, and I admit I resented her the entire time.

Due to the duration of the legal battle, and the pitiful insurance settlement she received, she lost her car, her home, and most of her belongings. After 15 months, I could no longer stand it, and I surrendered Guardianship and Conservatorship to a law firm who specialized in those things. They’ve done a good job, as far as I can tell.

Since surrendering responsibilities, I have not seen or spoken to my mother. I learned she had been placed into an assisted living apartment because she was not safe living on her own. Then, she went into full-fledged adult foster care in a hospital facility. Last month, her case worker phoned to say she was not doing well and I should come see her if it was important to me to speak to her before she died. She wasn’t expected to pass immediately, so I had some time to decide.

I debated a lot as to whether I wanted to go back home to say goodbye. 90% of me did not. I sought my friends’ advice, which was overwhelmingly (and gently) this: Go, because you may regret it if you don’t. Go for yourself, if not for her. Go, in case she might recognize you. Go, unless it will truly destroy you as a person. Go, because you’re more likely to regret not going than having gone. Go.

Thus, when I received the call last week that she was in the end stages, I booked a flight for the next day and made arrangements.

This was how she looked about a year ago in a photo taken by my aunt:

Such a lost, yet hopeful expression; it just about makes me cry to look at.

Driving over to the facility, I made attempts to steel myself for this visit, but I had no idea what to expect. I realized I couldn’t very well prepare myself for whatever lay ahead and surrendered to whatever was going to happen. I was both relieved to be alone and also really wanting “Walter” with me. Business had taken him back home, and he could not come along. He told me I was strong, and that I could do this. Part of me believed him. Part of me was glad he wouldn’t see me crumple because that would surely inevitably happen.

When I arrived at the absolutely wonderful rehab facility that has been her home for the last year, I parked and went inside. Registering at the desk, I received her room number and directions. Exiting the elevator, I knew I was scant moments from seeing what I didn’t want to see, but had to see.

I approached her room, which was near the end of a hall. Inside, two beds, both empty. Some personal effects I recognized as inherently “Mom.” The beds’ mattresses were thin, much like camp cot mattresses atop frames that could be hand-cranked to raise and lower head and feet. There wasn’t much in the way of noticeable smells.

I knocked softly and called, “hello?” as I peeked inside. To my immediate left, two nurses had a gruesome figure in the shower. I saw this wretched, skin-and-bones, whimpering … the only word that comes to mind is “hag” of a woman being held up and firmly but gently sponge bathed. I don’t use “hag” as a derogatory term here: It is the only word I can use to convey the grimness of the apparition before me. Skin hung off her bones from head to foot, her breasts swung around her waist, bones jutted from her hips and legs, her normally dyed-dark-brunette hair was shoulder length, wild, and completely gray, her face a contorted rictus of misery. She was whimpering in misery almost constantly, in obvious physical and emotional distress.

The expression she wears here is how she appears most of the time – in agony. In hell.

Thus it was I saw my mother for the first time in over five years.

I would never have recognized her.

I stepped back into the hallway to preserve her privacy in such a state of misery and nakedness. I was stunned, heart-broken. My aunt had sent me a photo to help prepare me for what I was going to see, but even it didn’t show anything near the depths of despair to which my mother had sunk. When she went into assisted living, I would imagine she weighed well over 200 pounds. Now? Perhaps 100. When I last saw her, she was oriented and aware of her surroundings, had a sense of herself, and could remember some things about the past. Here? No longer.

When I told the two lovely women who I was, they were astonished. “Lynn!” exclaimed one woman with a beautiful central African accent. “Lynn! Your daughter is here!”

I heard a whining, barely-audible mumble from the skeletal figure. The nurse replied, “I’m not lying, your daughter is here!”

After a few minutes, they had finished bathing her and dressing her in what must have been clothes from the Goodwill, and then helped her teeter-shuffle out of the bathroom. They managed to get her into her Jerry chair, a wheeled medical chair with a locking tray to hold her in – an adult-sized high chair, as it were.

I knelt before her, overwhelmed with compassion and sadness.

Continue Reading: Part Two

 

The Marvelous Miracle of the Human Brain, Time, & Relativity

In my eighth grade Physics class, they had us read a short book by Einstein, the title of which escapes me. One of its teachings was that 1 + 1 does not always equal 2. WHAT? Okay. Eighth grade me rolled with it.

It was a small group at breakfast this morning, but five of us set out to help Scott R. break in his brand-new tires. We took a leisurely stroll down Lyons Valley (I now understand how to keep up with Scott on Lyons Valley – put nails in his tires so they are always new) to Japatul, where we were treated to a 15-minute demonstration of a helicopter trying to pick up and reposition a power pole section. The flagman is the nicest I have ever encountered – he apologizes repeatedly for how long it was taking, explains their policies, and generally looks guilt-stricken. We reassure him it’s fine, and to not get himself fired by letting us go, anyhow.

Eventually, the pilot gets things sorted, and we carry on. I feel, and I can almost feel Scott feeling, an insane desire to chase the two sportbike riders who pass us – just to show them we can – but Scott has new tires, so we behave.

I parted ways with the group as they turned toward Julian. I needed more miles. A hell of a lot more. My brain was going faster than the GS could keep up with, and there are only a few ways to get it to simmer the hell down (“miles,” of course, being my favorite.)

Sunrise Highway was practically deserted and glorious, offering vistas of the desert that were stunning in clarity and detail, made all the more beautiful with shadows cast by the scattered, puffy clouds.

If one stops to ponder the act of riding a motorcycle, it is incredible we don’t all just die all the time. The minutiae are overwhelming to stop and think about. Our brains are processing a metric honkload of information every single nanosecond and still somehow manage to tell our bodies to do whatever needs doing in an instant. We react without even realizing. Amazing. All that, and we still have spare processing cycles to Think About Stuff.

Toward the end of Sunrise, I flipped around and putted down Pine Creek to enjoy the scenery and the quiet. Sunrise was pure focus on speed, lines, road detritus. Pine Creek was relaxing, almost like a soak in a mental hot tub. I paused frequently to breathe it all in and forced myself to take no photos (harder than it sounds.) At the bottom, I was so awash in memories and nostalgia that I almost forgot where I was (my brain being less remarkable than most, perhaps.)

Where to?

Hoping to run into my infrequently seen pals, Frank and Donald, I mushed the GS up the fast side of Palomar, finding it necessary to dodge a few large dollops of gravel toward the top in the most inconvenient places. My brain did all the things it needed to do to avoid them without much thought. Miracles.

Most of you would know Frank and Donald if you were to see them, and Donald is actually a member of the club. I haven’t seen Frank in months, and Donald in weeks. Today would not break that streak, sadly, so I enjoyed a slice of Mother’s apple pie and contemplated my many choices.

Borrego, what the hell.

Back down East Grade at maybe a 6 out of 10, enjoyable, not stressful, following familiar curves like tracing a finger along a known human body. I thought of my riding buddies back home, especially Jim and Alex, and missed them intensely, wishing I could show them these roads that would absolutely blow their minds. Someday.

As I crested one of the final hills before the left turn onto Montezuma, I saw two LEO’s coming at me, lights fully ablaze, pace just short of “frantic.” No sirens. I politely pulled to the side and waited for them to pass.

After the left turn, another, but no disco lights. A beat, then two more. A mile down the road, three more. What was this, a parade? All told, nine officers of our law passed me by, and it wasn’t until about the fifth that I slowed way the frick down and just chilled out rather than continually get puckered about doing 75 where I perhaps ought not to.

Once through Ranchita, the road mercifully cleared of all traffic. Coming over that final hill to a perfect view of the Salton Sea and distant peaks time froze for a moment into a perfect still-life, and I said “thank you” aloud to what I hoped was a receptive universe.

I remembered the time I met Homemade Bob in Borrego Springs for lunch, and how we chased each other down this road with me having no idea who he was.

The wonder and the perfection of this area when it is free of traffic is just … overwhelming. The road unwinds before me like a river flecked with gold and white, weaving its way through the wind-battered peaks and flood-worn valleys. Time is visible here, and my mind boggles at the immensity of it. It is… a bright abyss of sorts, a thought exercise that cannot be solved.

At the turn into Borrego Springs Proper, I see three sportbike guys I know from The Chairs heading back the way I came and wished them the same good traffic fortune I had experienced.

Quick gas stop.

Onward through Yaqui Pass, thinking of John Hermann, and this road is also remarkably free of other vehicles going in the same direction.  Bliss.

Bliss for awhile, that is.

After passing Scissors Crossing, I see many cars going up the hill and decide to catch up and pass them before hitting Banner Grade. The GS was certainly game, and while I will not mention specific speeds, I’ll impart unto you an IronButt Association term that will live in infamy forever and ever (R-amen:) “Higdon Triple-Veiner,” or a “Triple Higdon.” In short, that is how many veins on his forehead would threaten to burst upon hearing a specific speed mentioned in an email.

The cars were moving a fair bit faster than I expected they would be. Fun. Still do not want to be stuck behind them on the Grade, so I go all-in.

It was not the fastest I have gone on a BMW, but it was close. And it was uphill. I do so love this bike. I catch up, but it’s too late to pass at that moment.

We all pop over the hill, one by one, our suspensions stretching and reaching for the ground as we go over the top. There was oncoming traffic, so I politely waited for it to pass, putting on my left indicator a few moments prior to moving into the oncoming lane. Plenty of room, though I was aware the first curve was drawing closer with each second, and I had four vehicles to put behind me.

I waited to make sure none of the four cages in front of me were going to hop out, and then I proceeded.

We were still at Ludicrous Speed, all of us moving together, a hurtling caravan of metallic death just waiting to happen. My brain was processing everything in real time, like you do, noting the roadrunner on the left, the distant oncoming white van, the beautiful clouds, the new, disconcerting vibration in the front end, THE BLUE SPORTS CAR I AM PASSING LEAPING OUT INTO MY LANE.

Time slowed, very convincingly, to approximately one millionth its normal pace. My eyes see the car jerk toward me as I was abreast of its rear wheel. My mouth opens to gasp, my left wrist instantly pushes, resulting in an ever-so-slow-motion change in course which is, of course,actually happening at an unwise speed. To me, it feels like molasses.

Why does my landlady insist upon starving her outside cat? She’s onto me sneaking him food at night, I have to adjust strategy there.

The GS is not pleased with the abrupt input at such a pace and begins to wobble, one oscillation every ten minutes or so. The car is halfway over the yellow line now.

1+1 does not always equal 2, eighth grade me piped up uselessly, but insistently.
Three-year-old me reminded me of the days when I could walk up to wild bunnies and pet them.
Thirty-year-old me admonished her because Parasites.
Present-day me rolled her eyes because Immune System. Also, imminent demise; can we please focus here for a moment, girls?

The left white line lazily drifts toward me and my wobbly bike. My right wrist has instinctively pegged the throttle to even out the wobble and to get ahead of the car – brakes now would be suicide. My subconscious brain knew this reflexively and acted, while my conscious thoughts were reflecting back over events both recent and not.

Intelligent Design for a moment seems plausible.

I should start painting again. I wonder where my easel got to in the move? I should look up that tutorial I never finished. Do I really want to go visit my apparently dying mother? (NO.)

My head gradually turns toward the encroaching car, and I am now even with the driver. I see him see me with a look of sheer terror in his eyes, his mouth is wide open in a rictus of horror. He thinks he’s about to kill me. I think I think so, too. An absurd part of me wants to reach out and boop him on the nose – he’s that close.

The white line has stopped coming closer, the wobble is almost under control, and it has only been a mere three hours since I began my pass.

Are modern kerosene heaters safe? Building a fire every night is going to get really old, really fast.

Right wrist still utterly pegging the gas. Body lowering into a crouch to more easily maneuver or to leap off the bike before running into whatever it was I would run into first.

I remember the time my buddy Dale split a deer in two on his ST1100, went off into a deep ditch, did his best Jeremy McGrath impression, and came back onto the pavement unscathed, but covered in blood and deer shit. A piece of that deer poop would rest, unnoticed, upon his mustache, haunting him for the rest of his many miles to Reno, where he would meet up with Chuck Hickey, me, and various other IronButt Lunatics and regale us with his story.

The sports car driver jerks as hard as he can to his right, scant inches away from my thigh. I wonder what his brain is pondering, how slowly time is moving for him. I absently hope he doesn’t careen off the road.

I remember the water line under my kitchen sink is still leaking and make a mental note to check that when I get home. As if my brain will remember. Ha. Every song lyric from the 80’s? HELL YES. What I did two hours ago? Forget about it. NOPE.

My gaze leisurely returns to the road ahead. That first curve and that white van are much, much closer now, or at least seem to be, and I have one more vehicle to pass.  Oh, and I also have to survive the next few seconds (or hours, relatively) and navigate back into my own lane.

And I do. No problem. SUDDENLY… Nothing Happened.

The GS calms herself, the flow of time returns to normal, and I have miraculously not pooped myself or died in the process.

Leaving what I can only assume to be four fully puckered drivers in my wake, I carry on.

I wind up behind another ADV rider (so advertised by a sticker on his pannier) as we enter Banner Grade, and we two soon find ourselves behind The Slowest White Van in the History of Ever, which is followed by The Biggest Dodge Dually Belching the Most Black Smoke Ever. This is a painful, horrible combination. I quickly become annoyed, and I have entirely forgotten that, literally two minutes ago, I was in a seemingly protracted battle for the road.

Brains. Wow.

The other rider gave up and pulled over after a couple miles. I stood up out of sheer boredom and rode vertically. The driver of the stenchy Dodge was clearly as annoyed as I was, waving his arm out the window in a “WTF?!?!?!” gesture as he looked at me in his side mirror.

I mime shooting myself in the head. He does the same.

The van driver remains steadfast in his slow, deliberate, 10-20mph tour of our lovely Grade. Brakes on the whole time. Slowing for each. And every. Damn. Curve.

First gear is barely low enough. I have to feather the clutch many times.

The dually’s exhaust causes my head to throb, but it’s only a few more miles (which potentially equates to actual hours, not slow-mo ones) until I can make the turn onto my Wynola Road.

There it is. There’s the sign. I put on my signal.

SO DO THE TWO DRIVERS IN FRONT OF ME.

<shriek>

They come to such an abrupt and unexpected full and complete stop, I barely have time to sit down and get my foot down before toppling over. Falling down on pavement is PHIL’S job, not mine (said she, thusly dooming herself to fall gracelessly down whilst leading tomorrow’s NMR.)

I am faced with a choice: Follow this asshat presumably all the damn way down Wynola, or keep going straight and fight tooth and nail to get through “downtown” Julian for the second time today. No thank you, please: I’ll enjoy the scenery.

We pause for a long, LONG time at this intersection, because there are (horrors) cars coming off Wynola, and the van driver doesn’t think he can negotiate the tight turn with them there. Everyone is waiting for someone else to make a move, including oncoming traffic. I begin quietly bashing my helmet into my gas tank. I swear I heard the ADV rider behind me (who had caught back up with us long ago) laughing before he went straight instead of turning.

So, Wynola. At 6 mph. With no chance in hell of passing two large vehicles. I was standing most of the time, taking the opportunity to practice low-speed maneuvers whilst on my feet.

The triple-digit dodge/wobble/recovery incident is a distant, vague memory. This new frustration consumes my every molecule. Each breath brings too-rich black exhaust into my burning lungs, which complements the glowing embers of anger awfully well.

Ok, eDar, get yourself together. Enjoy. The Damn. Scenery. Already.

FINE. Oh, look – TREES. A meadow. Ok, it’s actually quite lovely. I relax. Deep inhalation and sigh, followed by a coughing fit from the exhaust. Ahhhh, my life in a nutshell, right here.

After a small eternity, we reach my driveway. I have been so lost in thought that I … drive right the eff by it. Shit.

Fine. FINE. I’ll go to The Chairs, see if anyone is there.

Both the dually and I pass the white van on that final straight section of Wynola, and we both gesticulate wildly as we do so. I stop short of giving him the finger.

Turns out Dually Guy is going to The Chairs also, and is an off-road rider. Cool. After parking, we look at each other in amazement. What does one say? “Holy SHIT, dude,” is all I had to offer. “Yeah,” he replied, shaking his head.

The three Borrego sportbike guys were also there, and we all shot the breeze for awhile before I needed to get moving again to appease the brain weasels. Still no Frank, no Donald. Darn. I hope Frank is ok (I know Donald is, he found me on email earlier this week.)

It’s been a long minute since I did Mesa Grande, so I do that. I contemplate Black Canyon, but think better of it. I contemplate taking another run up Palomar, but it sounds less appealing than simply going home.

I turn around and screw up every line on the fast side of Mesa Grande. Since changing my suspension from single rider, no bags to single rider, with bags, everything is a little “off,” but I love the way it handles, and I also love not scraping things off the bottom of my bike anymore.

I do not love the loss of precious footing, however.

Ok, enough. I have no point – I just felt like sharing something today. I suppose I should admonish everyone to be safe and to be vigilant while passing, but I know Eddie will chime in with “Ride Fast, Take Chances.”

Three-hundred-ish miles, still not enough, but it will have to do. Tomorrow, I’ll do my best not to get the NMR group (should there be one) lost or killed.

Ta.

Implausible Non-Fiction

For the last thirty minutes, I have systematically put myself into a state of exceptional terror. This is what happens when a vivid imagination is bored, anxious, and mildly startled.

No one else is on the homestead tonight, we have no neighbors in shouting distance.

Just outside the front door, I heard one of the cats have a very brief fight – a couple of yowls, a few growls, then silence.

Concerned for my feline friend, Jasper, I turned on the very dim front light and opened the door, calling him quietly. Nothing in reply. Crickets and tree frogs continued their conversations without pause.

I closed that door, and went to the kitchen door where Jasper usually lurks, and cries for me to come out and pet him, and makes me feel just horribly guilty for not being able to accommodate every single second of every single day.

I called him again through the screen door, and began to open it… but developed a very strong, very weird feeling and stopped. I listened. The symphony of night stopped. One lone frog gave a half-hearted croak and fell silent.

A moment later, I heard what sounded like two heavy footsteps in the lava rock mulch right around the corner from the door. I closed it, locked both locks. Locked both locks on the front door. Locked the sliding glass door. Closed all the drapes as closed as they would go. Fretted about the gaps.

Paused.

Performing fear-based tasks such as these tend to reinforce one’s sense of paranoia. “My God, I’m locking the doors, there must really be something out there, this isn’t something I’ve ever done before, what in hell is going on? Ok, better safe than sorry in cases like this. “Cases like WHAT?!” “I DON’T KNOW, SHUT UP AND BE VIGILANT.”

A stronger, very bad feeling. Situational awareness felt insanely acute.

Got my bear spray canister. Desperately wished I had a firearm. Turned off the computer monitors, the only source of light in the house. Crept to the stairwell and sat there, halfway up. and began listening.

Here’s where the actually scary stuff comes in – in my head: This is what it’s like to live in my brain.

I sat, still as a stone, breathing slowly and silently, listening. My pupils were expanding wide enough to make out a few things in the minuscule light cast by LEDs in two power strips upstairs. My insane imagination began to work:

  • It’s a prowler, just looking for an easy score. Everything is locked up, if he takes the bikes, they’re insured. He’ll move on, you’re fine.
    But what if he breaks in?
    You’ve got your bear spray.
    What if I get it all over me and am equally incapacitated?
    Fair point. Don’t do that.
    Ok, but what if he’s on PCP and doesn’t even notice the bear spray?
    Well, then you’re fucked, aren’t you. Also, PCP? Seriously? What is this, the 70’s?
  • A few moments pass…
  • Remember the scene where the T-Rex busts into the wooden outhouse in Jurassic Park?
    Of course I do, everybody does.
    Isn’t this house made out of wood?
    [Image of T-Rex bursting into stairwell fills my brain. Vividly.]
    Oh COME ON. Be serious.
    Shh, listen. Do you feel that?
    STOP IT.
  • [A few thumps on the roof.]
    Probably acorns – we have those here, right? Probably.
    OR IT’S RATS.
    I’m not even afraid of rats.
    Oh yeah? What about rabid rats with brains the size of Camaros. That have opposable thumbs.
    Are you being serious right now?
  • Alright, so it’s a monster – some kind of werewolfy, black-furred, scraggly, red-eyed, growly, toothy beast that’s as strong as an ox and easily bursts through the sliding glass door.
    …Ok, you have my attention…
    It can smell you and hear you anywhere you go, it can even sense the heat of your body. You can’t hide, and you’re halfway upstairs. You know what’s upstairs? NO WAY TO GET DOWNSTAIRS WHEN A MONSTER IS ON THE STAIRS, that’s what.
    [nervously]… Go on…
    Let’s say you somehow manage to jump through a window down to the ground without breaking your ankle, then where do you go?
    I get in the car!
    THE CAR IS LOCKED. Where’s the key? That’s right, inside the house. Oh look, the monster just broke through the window and you’re being torn to shreds and eaten.
    [heart pounding] This is terrifying. [I remove the bear spray’s trigger safety.]
    It’s not supposed to be a guided meditation up in here. Ok, it bursts through the door, and…
    Ok, I trick it! I turn on the TV in the upstairs bedroom…
    The TV that’s not plugged in?
    I plug it in! Then turn it on as a decoy and when the monster goes past me to the obvious target, I run downstairs and over to Mary’s house and lock the door.
    The door that’s just like the one that thing broke through as if it were balsa wood. It runs up the stairs, pauses ever so briefly to break down that door, too, and begins consuming your entrails while you scream into the lonely darkness.
    [The dogs begin barking their heads off]
    I’ll run in with the dogs! There are five of them, surely…
    The dogs that are terrified of your stationary, inert motorcycle.
    SHUT UP, they’re different when threatened.
    The dogs that sing with the coyotes.
    YES.
    If you say so. It kills the dogs first, and then kills you. Happy?
    NOT THE DOGS. Can we please be scared to death in another way? Please?
  • So a T-Rex bursts through the wall
    [Images]
    YOU ALREADY DID THIS ONE. It was more effective when I was six. Or thirteen.
  • A giant Anaconda escaped from … oh, from somewhere irrelevant. The fact of the matter is, it’s 27 feet long and has just pushed its way through the screen of the open kitchen window. It is, at this moment, slithering toward you, flickering its tongue which is roughly the size of Florida deliberately, seeking you out, sensing you hiding here in the dark. It doesn’t give a fuck about the dark. You know who can’t see in the dark? That’s right, YOU can’t. It could be right in front of you, coiled to strike, and you’d never know it was coming. It would grab you by the face, teeth sinking into your skull, wrap itself around you more quickly than you can fathom, and squeeeeze. Every time you struggled or exhaled, it would get tighter, tighter, until you feel your ribs popping, and your arms breaking and then you don’t care anymore because you couldn’t breathe anyhow with a snake mouth over your face, so you’re dead. Again. You’re that long, vaguely human-shaped lump in a big-assed snake. Creepy, right?
    You are SUCH an asshole. Next?
  • An elite squad of a paramilitary group has mistaken you for someone important and dangerous…
    Ha, if they only knew.
    HEY, T-REX!! Ha ha, just kidding. Anyhow, they have infrared and microwave and so on, and sniper rifles, and it would be so very easy to just pick you off right through these walls. Ok, this isn’t even fair, you’re of no use here. Well, what would the boyfriend do?
    BOYFRIEND would have already killed these motherfuckers. With, like, a shoe. And he would’ve left me with a shotgun. And a machete. And probably some napalm. As well as a plastic cup, whose genius purpose would only become clear the moment it was needed.
    Fair point. Moving on, then.
  • Land-dwelling great white sharks have…
    That’s not even fair.
    Sorry, ok.
  • ERIN, GET YOUR PISTOL!
    Real-life situations aren’t cool.
    Sorry, for real this time. T-Rex?
    Ok, T-Rex.
    RAWWWWRRRRR
    Thanks, not bad.
    Grizzly Bear?
    I don’t think I’m up for Grizzly Bear right now.
  • It’s surely been long enough now, nothing and no one is coming.
    They only want you to think that. They’re patient – unlike Little Miss AntsyPants here. You move and BOOM! Snake. Or sociopathic serial killer, your choice.
    How about no. Just… no. I’m going to go write down this completely insane chain of thoughts before I forget.
    Pff – “forget.” As if these things aren’t going to haunt your nightmares for, like, 17 years. I’m just that good.
    Tragically, yes; yes, you are.
    Sorry.
    Oh, you are not.
    True fact.

I snuck carefully toward the computer, only tripping over something in the dark three times in the span of 15 feet. The “Mission: Impossible” theme quietly played in the back of my mind, mixed with the womp-womp trombone.

I kid you not, I knelt in front of my desk, waiting for a good 30-45 seconds to make sure my movements hadn’t triggered a stealthy attack. I flipped on one monitor and ducked, all ears. Nothing moved. A small thump on the roof. Acorn.

Surely.

Slowly, I moved up onto the chair, still gripping the live bear spray canister. The house creaked. Suddenly, nothing happened. Nothing continued to happen for sufficient time that I began typing and completely forgot all about the perceived reality of the story I was getting written down.

Then, a distinct thump on the patio.

FOR FUCK’S SAKE, SERIOUSLY?

I pretended not to hear it, unceremoniously got ready for bed, climbed under the sheets… made sure the bear spray was right next to the bed… and listened to the cacophony of my heart pounding and blood racing. I could feel every capillary in my body, every cell was in total fight-or-flight mode. Of course, neither fight nor flight would save me, because the sound was actually…

[…and so begins another endless loop of self-torment.]

What do you do when the enemy is inside your own mind? No hiding from that. No bear spray fends off the brain weasels as they burrow deeper, getting good and comfy, writhing and biting, digging and chewing, scraping and clawing.

“Meditation,” some will say, “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,” others will murmur gently. The brain weasels chuckle, genuinely amused. “Yoga?” Oh, sweetiebabyhoneychild, you are aDORable. Brain weasels are as old as time and are as inexorable as the tides. They ebb and they flow by their own rules, and are swayed by no other law.

This is how we develop tics. This is how we begin talking to ourselves aloud without noticing and become That Lady. This is how it begins. The descent.

Buckle up.

The Sweetest Thing

“Baby, I think every bad thing that has ever happened to me my whole life was to prepare me for you. And it was worth it.”

His vexation was palpable. “Beg pardon?”

“All of the bad shit that happened to me changed who I was, made me a better person, or a more compassionate person – all of it was to help me become someone you love, who was also ready and able to love you.”

He blinked. “That is the most peculiar and beautiful thing anyone has ever said to me.”

Confidence & Evolution – A Love Letter to BMWOCSD

Dearest BMWOCSD Members –

Today marks the one-year anniversary of my first visit to San Diego. I came to visit some Michigan friends who had moved here a couple of years before, and also to see if I might be interested in living here myself. As you’ve seen, I love to ride, so I had one requirement for my next place of residence: I needed to be able to ride my motorcycle year-round on beautiful roads. That was my single criterion. I was tired of putting up the bikes for 4-5 months out of the year, tired of riding in straight lines on boring, flat, shitty roads.

To be honest, we don’t get many snows like this anymore. Back in the 70’s, the whole winter was like this, and it was pretty great. Now, things just tend to be below freezing cold, dead, gray, and awful.

I was always interested in and attracted to motorcycles, but they seemed so unsafe, so unstable. Then I dated a guy (hi, Troy) with a V65 Sabre, and after a few rides on the back, I said, “ok, fuck this – I wanna drive.” I was 26 then, and I wish I’d started when I was 16. Or 6, for that matter. Instead, young Erin’s need for speed was confined to sneaking the family car out and careening down those abandoned country roads with my best friend, Lisa, and to tractors, and to roller skates.

A favorite childhood pastime.

Fast-forward to now: I’ve been riding for a minute – about 22 years, but the vast, overwhelming majority of that time was spent riding in central Michigan (otherwise known as, “where roads and cars both go to die.”) Whilst living in Lansing, we had to ride 30 minutes in one of two directions to hit any sort of twisties. Northwest, there were several s-curves in a row – several! Several was a big deal back there. Southeast there was a longer bit of road that was more twisty and which took a good 20 or so minutes to travel in one direction. Then, from there, we had a few fairly attractive options in the Ann Arbor area, but nothing to write home about. Let me show you what I mean – this is a map of the area:

See all those straight lines? Now imagine them filled with potholes the size of a Buick. That’s central Michigan for you.

Central Michigan is very agriculturally driven; those roads tend to either follow the property/field lines or water. As a result – I bought a Harley. Now, now, hear me out – I’ve been a sport and sport-touring rider for my entire riding career, and I largely held Harleys in contempt. In contempt, that is, until I rode one and just had a grin on my face the whole time.

No regrets – She was a great Michigan Bike.

So it came to pass that, in 2012, at the beginning of my very own Mid-Life Crisis*, I bought a brand new Harley Super Glide Custom, named her Dahlia, and spent about 16,000 very happy miles on her. Harleys are fun to ride in straight roads. Now, for those of you who have never lived anywhere but in San Diego County, “straight roads” are exactly what they sound like – roads with nary a curve to be seen. Freeways here in SoCal are better than the best roads in central Michigan. You feel me? Right on.

I thought I was a pretty damned good rider when I lived in Michigan.

I was, of course, wrong – it’s just that Michigan is not precisely a hotbed of super-accomplished motorcyclists.

Thus, when I moved here, I basically had to learn how to ride all over again in a more tactical manner. Chuck and Lorraine took me on my maiden ride, and I was utterly blown away. We hit Sunrise, we hit Mesa Grande, we hit Palomar, we hit The Chairs, we hit … other roads I don’t remember… but I was exhausted by the end of it. My brain was going a kazillion miles an hour, and my shoulders were a little fatigued from “all the pushing” of the handlebars. Some of the turns intimidated the hell out of me – heck, some entire roads intimidated me (Highland Valley, for example, was just a huge stressor for a good, long while.)

Back then, I was riding my now-gone FZ1-R1, and I loved her desperately.

Power all day long.

Many of you will remember: I was slowwwwww. As my beloved Mike Mc. recently said, “Erin, when you joined this club, you couldn’t pass a mouse.” He’s not wrong.

On impulse, I bought an FJ 09 for the annual trek up to Gerlach, Nevada (where I first met Chuck in the 90’s!) Had I known better then, I would’ve skipped straight to the GS and saved myself some money and headache, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Recently, Randy dubbed this bike “Cassandra:”

Sadly, the FJ did no favors to my riding skills; the stock tires were so utterly abysmal – what they lacked in road feel they also lacked in grip. Confidence = undermined.

Thus, when I first started riding with the club, I was inexperienced on these roads, on a bike whose tires fought me every inch of the way. It wasn’t until I put new PR4’s on Cassandra that my riding noticeably improved and I began to fully appreciate the FJ’s light weight, incredible power, and extreme agility. Juuuuust in time to buy the GS, naturally.

By the time I picked up the GS, I mostly had the hang of San Diego roads, and the confidence boost the GS gave me was immense. You all know the story of how Ember came to pass, so suffice to say, I am so happy with this bike. She is the best bike, the nicest bike, I have ever had. I ride the GS better and faster than any bike I’ve had, and only some of that can be attributed to me – much glory to the bike.

Best. Bike. EVER.

I’ve been gradually riding better and better, thanks to following behind some of the best riders I’ve ever personally known: Rex, the two Scott’s, Phil, Tom, the aforementioned Mike, Nick, Edward, Rich, Jonathan, Bob S., a couple of Bill’s, and more than a few assorted others. You guys have been the best instructors, just leading by example most of the time, and at others, offering advice.

Lately, I’ve come to feel more confident, and confidence is where it’s at.

The San Luis Obispo trip was a huge turning point for me; these were roads I’d never ridden on previously, in a group comprised of people with whom I’d not ridden previously (or at least not much, apart from Scott R. and Scooter Bob.) Thus, I had no expectations, no preconceived notions of what was hard, what was easy, what was scary, and who was “way faster than I am.”

I just rode, subscribing largely to the, “If He Can Do It, So Can I” theory of speed – if Scott, on his older GS, could keep this pace on roads he hadn’t ever been on before… shit, maybe I could, too. 

Familiar words echoed in my head: “Erin, you have got to learn to trust that GS.” The thing is, I trust the GS implicitly – that bike knows what it’s doing, no question. The distrust lies within myself – I don’t trust my reflexes, my judgment, enough to have faith that whatever is around that turn, I can handle it. I feel like all of the people I noted above have that kind of confidence – and, short of a bus blocking both lanes, they’re probably right.

Sure, the odds are in our favor on blind curves, but one never truly knows. I was talking to The Unnamed Gentleman the other night about this very thing, and he summed things up succinctly: “I ride for the 99% of the time it’s going to be clear; you might choose to ride for the 1% it might not be.” He went on to talk about ways to mitigate possible problems (late-apex cornering, for example,) but in the end, it comes down to faith and common sense.

Faith and common sense. Are these mutually exclusive?

I’ve had more than a few “oh, shit!” moments on bikes when reflexes and instinct took over and everything worked out just fine – my muscle memory and judgment did their things. Those things weren’t always the best courses of action, but they got me through.

And it surprises me Every. Damn. Time.

After the SLO trip, though, I noticed a change. Yes, some of the curves and roads were still a bit intimidating, but it didn’t matter as much – sit there, twist that, everything is good and fun. Fine and dandy. I’ve been working consciously on removing any preconceived notions of “this curve is scary” and instead, just riding.

This past weekend, I rode with Klaus for the first time, just the two of us. He took it easy on me at first, and then suddenly, we were fucking flying through the curves. I started scraping things. Hard. Hard enough to actually warrant backing off on Montezuma because I was afraid three points of contact were going to flip me into a high-side or other gnarly situation. I am certain Klaus could have gone a fair bit faster, flinging that HP2 all over hell and gone, but we were moving right along.

The sidestand footprint enlarger took a hell of a beating on Sunday. It hangs down a fair bit lower than the peg – which somehow also got scraped. No bueno, no bueno at all.

Upon seeing that, The Unnamed Gentleman said, “Your suspension is on SOFT.”
“Nope. HARD.”
“Hard ROAD, hard DYNA?”
“Hard DYNA.”
“So when you’re pushing that hard, try one rider with bags. It will keep the bike from sagging at the apex under the G-force.”
“I’m afraid that’ll be a little tall when stopping.”
“Won’t really affect the height.”

I went downstairs and adjusted the suspension, feeling the bike lift up a good two inches on me. “Won’t really affect the height,” he said. I’ll give it a go for now, though.

After Sunday’s romp, I have zero chicken strips on my rear tire and I have to say – that feels pretty awesome. However, I’m now confronted with learning how to ride all over again at a different level – using body weight to reduce lean angle. I’m not going to be dragging knees anytime soon, and likely never will, but I have to start getting used to hanging my ass off the saddle a bit to help things along.

Plus, I need to learn how to ride in the dirt. All the learning: I can’t wait. All of this I would love to one day parlay into a traveling, ADV-moto-journalist career, but I can’t afford to quit the day job just yet, and it’s not an easy field to break into.

Back to my main point: This club has been amazing and has helped me to advance my riding by several levels. You’ve shown me the best roads, both paved and not, you’ve given me a tribe here in SoCal when I had none.

I am exceptionally grateful to all of you who have been so welcoming, so kind, so gracious, so helpful. I want to give a bunch back to the club and am still figuring out the best ways to do it.

From the bottom of this Michigan farm girl’s overflowing heart – thank you. I’ll do my best to make everyone a casserole over time.

* The rest of the mid-life crisis went like this: Chop off 20 inches of hair; dye short hair weirdo colors (wait, I’m still doing that – shit;) leave husband; divorce husband; proceed to date a bunch of people half my age; buy a flashier car than I needed; run up credit card debt; move to SoCal.

BMWOCSD Central Coast Trip 2018

I get ideas in my head which can often be summed up thusly: “It seemed like a good idea at the time:” Renting an apartment in Mission Valley; dating a 26-year-old boy when I was 45; buying an FJ-09; trying that long carom shot. You get the picture.

I loves me some camping – remote, rustic, wilderness camping. Too often, I forget that campgrounds are frequently the opposite of that, and such was the case at the El Chorro facility. My campsite had “full hookups,” an asphalt pad, and about 3 square feet of level terrain for a tent. Almost no shade. Neighbors on three sides. Bathroom 100′ away. “Rustic,” it was not. But it was camping – I was outside, the weather was good, the setting quite lovely, and it was only for a few days. Noooo problem.

 

When I travel, I pack for Contingencies: Just as our protective gear doesn’t do us any good in our closets, a tire plug kit, fuel siphon, et cetera, won’t be of any help if left at home. This is how I came to have over 85 pounds of luggage strapped to the GS for the Central Coast 2018 trip. Had I not been camping, and had it not been in the upper 40’s at night, my Gear Situation would’ve been halved, but these are the choices I made. I was prepped, man – all the warm clothes. Jetboil. Stove fuel. Food. Sleeping bag and pad. Trauma and tool kits. Snacks.

Difficult choices had to be made, however; the battery charger and air compressor had to be left behind. Thankfully, they (along with damn near all other contingency gear) were not required in the end.

Thursday night, thanks to other less-than-wise choices, I got about four hours of highly interrupted sleep, and 5am came a hell of a lot earlier than it normally seems to. After mainlining some coffee, throwing together some last-minute odds and ends, and getting the bike gassed up, I was on the road at 6am sharp – right on schedule. Riding up the 15 was chilly but otherwise uneventful, and I found the gas station and McDonald’s where we were to meet. A few others were already present, and soon our full contingent was ready to roll.

And roll we did.

As with any bike, the GS is a different animal with that much gear loaded on – the air currents moved us around differently, she cornered less effectively, et cetera – all things you’d expect. I do not carry passengers – ever – for a variety of reasons, and having this much Stuff was a bit like having a small human clutching to the rear of the bike. Still, Ember performed absolutely flawlessly, and I was able to keep up with Scott’s medium pace.

There was one small moment of terror at the very beginning of the trip as we were going through the first part of a twisty section. We came upon a small, steep rise past which I could not see. What I did see, however, was Gary’s helmet go up and over, and then take an immediate sharp right. Oh, fuck – I was going a bit too fast for this sort of maneuver, but over and over we went, studiously ignoring the oncoming Honda Civic to my left and the enormous tree trunk to my right. Right peg scraped as we hit the bottom of the downhill bit and entered the turn.

Someone near and dear to me recently said, “Erin, you have got to learn to trust that GS.” While where my trust lies and why is a topic for another time, the SLO trip and moments like this one did wonders for all levels of trust everywhere. Ember sailed through the turn without a wobble, despite my elevated pulse and the scraping metal. “Oh,” I said, after the non-event. “Well, alright then.” Onward.

Unaware of the amazing scenery that would be in the offing on the trip up, I did not have a GoPro running at all, much to my own great disappointment. The mountain passes, the high desert, the ranches, the everything, was stunningly beautiful. And then there was Maricopa, which I think we can all agree we wish did not exist at all. While the GoPro wasn’t loaded and running, it was attached to the front of the bike – at least it was for awhile. At some point a few hours in, I noticed it dangling at the end of its power cord. Well, shit – I picked it up and tucked it into a reasonably secure spot on the dashboard where it rode until our next gas stop.

At said stop, I went to turn into the gas station and suddenly found I could not move the handlebars at all. My first thought made no sense, but is the result of having grown up in the 70’s and 80’s with old cars that became absolutely impossible to steer if the engine died and took out the power steering: The bike must’ve died and the power steering… wait, that can’t be right. In a few fractions of a second, I managed to steer the bike with lean and come to a safe stop where I discovered the GoPro had wedged itself between handlebar and fairing. Shit, that would’ve been SUPER bad at speed – I sent a silent “thank you” to the universe and anyone out there who might be listening.

Scott did a fantastic job leading us on a perfect pace for the type and duration of the trip: It was quick, but sane. Once safely in SLO, we rolled into the hotel to get everyone situated. Rick arrived with his Diavel in tow (thanks to a brake assembly fiasco with his GSA,) and while he was basically prepared for the implications of that bike… he was going to be in a world of hurt after a day or two. His SUV did provide a large number of us with safe passage to and from dinners, though, which was much appreciated. Even though sitting in that third row with my knees up around my ears was an excellent substitute for yoga, it sure beat having to wrangle my gear and the bike all through town, and also allowed me an adult beverage at dinner.

After a short time, I headed over to the campground to see what that situation was going to be like: “Disappointing” is one word I would use. I had decided to camp for two reasons: 1.) It saved me over $400, and 2.) SOMEONE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE THERE CAMPING WITH ME. Oh, I’m sorry – did I yell that out loud? I did? Darn. At any rate, camping buddy Homemade Bob bailed on me, so solo camping it would be.

I could go on at some length about my amazing tent: It’s solar-powered, has LED lighting, a small fan, a small lantern, and various charging abilities. I was not by any stretch “roughing it” with this setup. It takes less than 5 minutes for 2 people to set up and just over 5 for a singular Erin to do the job. I believe it took more time to find “basically level” spot to set up than it did to actually set the thing up. I caught up on work, then headed back to the hotel for dinner.

Our member from Sonoma, CA, Mike (Marco’s friend) and I cuddled up next to each other in the back seat. While we’d never laid eyes on each other prior to that night, we are now quite well-acquainted simply by virtue of having been packed together like sardines.

Dinner was nice, and we were all fairly crispy from the long day of travel, so we adjourned for the day. I was out like a light before 21:00, and I slept like a rock somehow, warm and toasty in my favorite bag.

I woke up without an alarm shortly before 5 and realized… I have to get out of my sleeping bag. Oh, fuck this. When I get really, really cold, only hot water can truly warm me up. It was 50 degrees and 100 feet to the bathrooms where a shower awaited: I’ve got this. I gathered up my shower kit, flung myself out of bag and tent, and shivered my way the short distance only to find… coin-operated showers. Fuck me in the eye. FINE. Scurried back, found a few quarters, disrobed reluctantly, tossed the quarter into the slot, and cringed as the cold water sprayed out all around me. I did the “I’m freezing my nekkid butt off” dance for a good full minute, but there was absolutely no change in water temperature. A few minutes later, same, and the quarter ran out. Son of a whore. This is suddenly not my idea of a good time.

I glared at the showerhead, at the coin slot, at the faucet, and at my bottle of Dr. Bronner’s which was dutifully waiting to be used for all the things from shampoo to toothpaste. All of them were unintimidated, and I’m fairly sure I saw the showerhead shrug. One of my favorite movies is Kenneth Branagh’s “Henry V,” and a line from it echoed in my head: “I was not angry since I came to France until this instant!” Whose idea was this “camping” bullshit? OH, RIGHT – THE GUY WHO’S NOT HERE. Fine. FINE. Plan B. I used my camp washcloth and the sink to wash the most crucial bits, brushed my teeth, and called it good. I was shivering to the point of chattering teeth, but a down jacket, heated grips, and soon thereafter, hot coffee awaited. I rushed to get over to the coffee shop where the gang was to meet at 7. The coffee was hot, the strata tasty, and the company excellent.

Back to the hotel by way of the gas station, where everyone was getting themselves ready under the dreary overcast sky. Clouds obscured most of the mountain tops, but we were confident it would burn off. Scott and Rich led us through the mists and clouds, and, as we were going through a pass, it went from 60 degrees to 78 degrees over the course of (I kid you not) 30 seconds. I soon found myself wearing a down liner and long johns at 80 degrees and began to swelter. Welp, surely Scott would stop soon and I could shed some layers.

NOPE! At least there was enough breeze from our speed to force some air through my vents… oh, wait — now we’re going up Painted Cave Road at all of 10 – 20 miles per hour most of the time. Oh, holy heat. I began desperately sending Scott telepathic messages: “Please stop, Scott. Scott. Stop, please. Hey, hey Scott? Could we please, for the love of everything holy, stop? Scott, I am dying. Goodbye, cruel world, goodbye. Feed my remains to the sea.”

He ignored me.

But wait! He’s pulling to the side now! YAY! I began to pass the bikes ahead of me to talk to him and ask him to please give me a minute to … fuck. And we’re off again. Rivulets of sweat coursed over my entire everything. Painted Cave Road goes through a stunningly beautiful area and up a large, steep mountain. The road is just shy of 1.5 lanes, and accommodates traffic going both up and down the hill. Fortunately, uphill traffic (if convention holds here as it does elsewhere) has the right of way, so our progress was largely unimpeded. There were so many bicyclists, though, placing their very lives into the hands of utter strangers passing them. Most were polite, others took up their legally allowed full space irrespective of the danger it may cause themselves and others.

At the summit, we pulled into a woodchipped parking area, where many of us immediately leaped off our machines and began to strip down as if on fire. As the cool breeze began to work its magic, things became much more pleasant. The view, while a bit hazy, was spectacular. Dennis took a few group shots and managed not to injure himself in the process – good show! Scott briefly turned into a mountain goat. A great many of us became somewhat panicked at what we thought might be poison oak we were standing in the middle of.

After a bit, we set off on the downhill side, where one absolutely insane, highly skilled bicyclist lead all but the first few bikes the whole way down on those skinny, skinny tires of his – amazing. There were skateboarders to boot, and holy shit are they ever freakin’ not right in the head. Some wore only helmets and no other gear – even if their own skills were top-notch, one asshole could really ruin their lives. <shudder>

Our first choice for lunch was beachside and absolutely slammed: No food for us there. At this point, the group became a bit splintered while decisions were made. Some ended up leaving ahead of Mr. Road Captain, and we ended up making a different choice on where to go – Cold Springs Tavern it was. Parking there was a nightmare, and I found myself wedged between a work truck and a shed in some fairly deep gravel. Fortunately, Mike parked behind me and was able to help me wrangle the bike when it came time to leave.

The smell of BBQ wafting through the air was unspeakably tantalizing as they readied a table for us. Inside, it was dim and hot, but there were pitchers of water and iced tea to be had. I’m fairly sure we drained a three-county area of all cold liquids in about 8 minutes. The food was excellent, and this was a great opportunity to get to know the people I’d either not met previously or didn’t know well. Our mealtime conversations over the weekend ranged from porn to health to family values to wine to mythology to sexual harassment to social mores to beer and beyond. Politics and handguns of course came up, but never in the same discussion – we’re not complete idiots.

As Rick said a couple of times, “Where else but a BMW club are you going to get this kind of variety?” Incidentally, Rick also said he drives better after he’s been drinking – I’m not entirely convinced that’s the case, but I think having drunk passengers might make that seem to be true.

After lunch, we headed to Solvang, which had been almost completely shut down due to a parade of one sort or another. Most of the group called it a day, but Marco, Mike, and I weren’t ready to call it just yet. Mike led us for another couple hundred miles until we ran out of ideas and daylight. Back to the hotel for dinner. A very generous club member allowed me to use his shower, which was amaaaaaaazing.

The next morning, I was mentally prepared for no hot shower, so it was less brutal getting things around. I’d somehow lost my earplugs and had run out of room on my SD cards, so I headed to the nearest 24-hour store which was about 20 minutes North. Back to town for coffee and breakfast, and we headed out for the day’s adventure, which was truly stunning in every way. I opted for the longer route, and I’d have to review the route maps to tell you where we went, but all of it was just super fun.

One rider dropped his bike at an intersection, and that was thankfully (to my knowledge) the only incident of the weekend. More lunchtime troubles resulted in eating at a mediocre Chinese buffet before heading off once again.

I’d not ridden with Jim and Suzy Freeman previously, and what an inspiration that ended up being! When we finished with Santa Rosa Creek and were getting back underway, I made sure the two-up riders were behind me – most two-up bikes are understandably not as quick as those of us who aren’t encumbered. After lunch, however, Jim popped into place right behind Scott – and proceeded to ride the pants off the rest of us like whoa. Suzy passengered like a champ, and Jim rode that bike like an F16 pilot on some tight, twisty, narrow, shitty pavement,. even managing to dodge a large snake in the middle of a curve. I was fourth in the group behind Gary, and there were times when he and I were working hard to keep up. It was a truly humbling experience which reminded me not to judge riders until I see them in action (you’d think I’d have learned this by now, especially after having ridden with this club for a minute now.)

We ended the fun romp portion of the ride in a dreary, smelly oil field, regrouped, and headed for the barn.

Sunday’s dinner was utterly fantastic at Novo, a slightly upscale place right on a verdant creek. The setting, the food, the beer, the wine, and the craft soda were all mind-bendingly good, and I came away with a new top-ten wine: Turley’s 2016 Zinfandel.

Sunday night was… rough. While two neighbors had left, a new arrival brought a very large, very barky dog they were not inclined to make stop barking. Coyotes yipped and howled through the wee hours, which made the dog bark even harder. I mentioned in a previous piece how I am rendered completely useless by anything itchy – I’ll scratch a mosquito bite to the bone to trade pain for itch any day. When I first moved to SD, Chuck H. reminded me “the desert is very alive at night,” with anything from scorpions to tarantulas that might like to hide in boots, coats, and helmets, so I’m always very careful to protect these things and to keep my tent zipped up tightly.

Despite my precautions, however, some kind of spider managed to find its way into my sleeping bag and bit the absolute shit out of my feet, ankles, and legs during the approximately 15 minutes during which I managed to be asleep. Once the itching set in, it was all over but the crying. All told Sunday night, I got about 45 minutes of sleep in 5-minute chunks. At dawn, I was a train wreck – a miserable, itchy, bleeding, exhausted, shivering train wreck. I knew the day’s route would be a bit challenging and that if I were to go along, I’d be putting myself and the whole group at greater risk due to my mental and physical condition. Weighing out pros and cons, I opted to head for home. I broke camp, packed up, and met the gang at the coffee shop to say goodbye.

Everyone was very kind, and several people offered the use of their room to rest up, but I was all set to get going home. If I needed to stop and catch a few minutes of sleep on the bike at a rest area, so be it. The IronButt Association taught me that sleeping on a parked bike is not only possible but extremely easy if I’m tired enough. On the Butt Lite II back in… 99?… I slept under a bank drive-through in a torrential downpour in Tupelo, at several different rest areas, and, at one desperate point, pulled off to the side of a country two-lane road in the middle of nowhere. The IBA also taught me that, when sleeping in those conditions, it is wise to have an empty .45 holster lying on one’s person as a warning; I’ve never been disturbed by anyone.

Rick kindly schlepped my giant, heavy duffel bag back home for me so I wouldn’t have to contend with that extra weight, and I am extremely grateful for his help.

As I was getting ready to head out, Mike and Marco said they were also leaving, and Marco offered to ride with me. I wasn’t in much of a condition to argue with that kind of offer, so we agreed to head home together. This worked out far better than me riding alone because I would’ve probably just hit the 101 for the duration, which would’ve sucked pretty badly. Instead, Marco treated me to more amazing views and roads. It was a fanTAStic ride home with good company.

We stopped to pee at Pine Mountain in what was not quite The Worst Toilet in Scotland, but came pretty frickin’ close. He asked if I’d be ok stopping for a bit to visit his cousin who was in the hospital. I couldn’t say no to that, so off we headed. I neglected to ask where the hospital was, mind you, and as we began heading into Los Angeles, my heart sank. I hate LA more than is rational – it gives me the equivalent of City and Traffic Claustrophobia. We got to the hospital easily enough (after lane-splitting for a good while,) and had a really nice visit with Kate, his cousin. She is a fascinating woman, and I’m happy to have met her.

After the visit, we were ravenous and went to find some lunch. It was almost 1400 and traffic was picking up. The first parking lot turned us away, as did the second. Getting around town was ponderous and miserable, and after being denied the second time, I pleaded with Marco to just get us out of town. Thankfully, he was just as happy to do that and off we went – lane-splitting for quite some time through heavy assholes.

We ended up in Laguna Beach for lunch at a beautiful Mexican spot right on the water. I learned a lot about Marco’s late wife and his family on both sides – really wonderful, unique stories. Traffic wasn’t pleasant for the remainder of the trip home, but I could smell the barn and knew it would all be over soon. My whole body was vibrating and a bit hyper-reflexive from exhaustion and I was more than ready to take a shower and hit the sack. Marco split off to head toward the Poway area while I continued on to Mission Valley.

On Tuesday, while the main group was riding home, I took the GS up to Escondido for her 12k servicing and to meet Rick to pick up my duffel. Jeff tried to kill me with a broken loaner bike (kidding, kidding – he didn’t know it was on the fritz,) and now that she’s had her valves adjusted, Ember is running even more smoothly than before – man, but I love this bike so much (yes, yes – “thank you, Phil.”)

Wednesday brought a quick group ride with The Mexico Contingent down to Ensenada for ceviche lunch at our favorite MX lunch spot, Sabina’s. I loaned the FJ09 to Kelly, whose bike was unexpectedly out of commission, and we all had a grand time, stuffed ourselves stupidly full of fresh seafood, and enjoyed a leisurely trek back home again. As we neared Mission Valley, the whole area was under a heavy smoke cloud and traffic was utterly fucked. There was a small brush fire right at my exit, so we had to get clever to get home.

After seeing Kelly off, I headed over to BMW of SD to pick up a special order I’d been waiting on for 6 weeks and ran into Edward. “You went to Baja today? Didn’t you get enough riding in this weekend?” What is this, “enough riding” concept of which you speak? Is that something like, “enough cheesecake” or “enough money?”

Regardless.

Every day in San Diego, I am grateful to be here in Motorcycle Paradise. I’m grateful Chuck H. introduced me to this club, and I am grateful you seem not to mind having me around too much. I am truly fortunate – thank you, everyone.

Thank you most especially to Scott and to Rich for this SLO trip; wonderfully planned and executed! I’ll be back.

Heck, I’ll be going back there quite soon to take the missed Monday route – anyone up for a long weekend trip in the coming month? 😀

Videos are here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8QTH-NJkam3N2HlA2PLlMA

Photo album here:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/compassionate/sets/72157694941448401

I’ll have photos up later on – right now, there’s a snooker table calling my name and I can’t ignore it any longer.

Well, Shit.

Everything is unusual until we become accustomed to it.

Last Friday, I “crashed” the GS for the first and second (but assuredly not the last) times.

I don’t want to talk about it.

Who am I kidding? OF COURSE I DO. (Have we even met?)

EDIT: I feel compelled to add a very important thing here; no one forced me to do anything; I went along all roads and trails willingly and I take full responsibility for dropping the bike both times. The fault lies with me, and with no one else.

I have been semi-bitten by the dirt bug – I love the idea of getting out there and thrashing around on trails and such, but before I can do that, I have to… well, learn how to do the basics. I sent a query out to the Let’s Ride list, and a few folks answered the call. Rich advised me to take off my aluminum panniers and provided me with an impressive list of people in the club who’ve had their legs broken by them. I took his advice, though I was “sure that wouldn’t be an issue.” Ha.

I arrived at the designated gas station fairly early, and there were two GS’s already there. Given I didn’t know two of the names who said they were or might be coming, I figured they were the two. I walked up, introduced myself, and said, “so, where do you guys want to go?” They looked at me like I was a crazy person. We very quickly figured out they were not in any way affiliated with the club – derp. We had a good chuckle and shot the shit for awhile.

Rich, Brett, Don, and Juergen did show, and we all aired down to about 25 pounds which seemed insanely low to me, but I deferred to Rich’s expertise. Ember was alarmed – for the duration, a flashing red warning light constantly reminded me she did not approve. We rode over to the entrance to Black Canyon Road following Rich’s lead, and I was happy to run into Scott R. as we did. Easy-peasy, that road, though I’m still not confident enough to keep up with the more accomplished dirt riders, who left me in their (literal) dust. Juergen and I held up the back end of the group, mincing our way along. I was on Anakee 3 tires, which are about 90/10 road/off-road – not great traction in the dirt at all, but better than my Pilot Road 4’s, assuredly. Don was kind to remind me at several points that he and I were working harder because we didn’t have dirt tires.

The Anakee 3’s look like this:

Whereas the TKC 70’s I’ve just mounted as of yesterday are:

I really do hope they make the difference people have told me they will.

We reached a gated turnoff and found the gate open – off we headed down the truck trail. It was a little intimidating at first – I had no idea what sort of bump or rock or gully would be A Problem for the GS, and there were times when I got pulled off-course by sand or gravel or slope and had to go over some shit I definitely would’ve avoided, but man – she took all of it in stride. I’m sure I’ll continue to be wildly impressed.

Once we were on the truck trail, Rich kindly took up the sweep position so Juergen and I would have help if we needed it. About 45 or so minutes after we started our adventure, maybe 20 minutes after getting to the trail, we took our first pit stop. I was whipped and my legs were quaking like the proverbial aspen. I’d been watching some off-roading videos, and they all said to keep my knees bent to help soak up the bumps, so I was. Rich later told me to just keep my legs straight and let the ridiculously good GS suspension do the hard work unless the bump was really awful. Had I known this when we started off, I’d have been in much better condition as time passed. As it stood, or rather, as it tried to stand, I was, as one of my Texas buddies, Allen, would say, “tahrd.” Not just “tired,” but tahrd. Cooked. I felt like I’d spent the last hour doing squats… which, I suppose, I essentially had been. It was hot, but not super hot, and I was sweating like a mofo.

After taking a short break, we pushed onward. We reached a fork in the road where the leaders had graciously paused to let us catch up. Rich wanted me to do some dirt-based practice – standing up and turning in a tight circle. In front of everyone? Oh, gosh. Ok. I wobbled around in a few circles, sitting at first, then standing. I was so tired, though, I didn’t want to generate any more lactic acid than absolutely necessary. After practice, some of the group headed for home, which I also probably should’ve done given how exhausted my legs were.

But no. Of course I did not, because I didn’t want to miss out on the fun ahead. Mistake number one.

The next section of trail was about at the limit of my skills when I’m this out of shape and already struggling with muscle fatigue. I was so disappointed that the GoPro overheated and shut off for that section because I kind of felt like a badass afterward… a graceless, slow badass, but a badass nonetheless. That was mistake number two – hubris, baby.

After a small eternity, we reached another stopping point. Brett carried on to the end of the trail, but I opted to stay behind and rest for a bit. Rich was kind enough to hang out with me, and we soon turned around and headed back down the trail – we knew Brett would catch up. 😀

Rich is a fantastic dirt rider, and wanted me to do some skills practice. I don’t think I managed to adequately convey how very, very tired and made-of-Jell-O my legs were. I opted to pass on his “find the tipping point hitting the brake and the throttle at the same time,” drill and will save that for another day. We did do some emergency stopping, however, so I could try to get used to that feeling. The first few went well, but then… then, I slammed on the brakes and discovered my right foot couldn’t touch the ground – I’d stopped over a small gully on that side. WHAM! Over we went. Hard. Past horizontal, too. I didn’t realize how hard a hit it was until I watched the video – wow. I suspect that’s what knocked my gaskets out of alignment, rather than the second incident a few minutes later.

Rich came back and we got the bike back to a “normal” dropped angle. He offered to lift it for me, and did – thank goodness, because I know my legs would’ve crumbled into dust. The paracord wrap on my crashbar didn’t seem any worse for wear. 😀 I learned repeatedly pressing the keyless ride button does not kill the engine, so the bike ran for longer than I would’ve liked on its side. Foo.

When I first got the GS, Dr. Tom had told me I should just go out and throw the bike down once to get that first damage “out of the way.” I politely passed, but I must admit that once I had that first damage done, I gave far fewer fucks about subsequent accidents. I was tired, I was getting a little hangry, and I was ready to head for home. I felt a little too cocky, and went a little too fast, and paid the price for it.

The new prevailing theory is that I crashed because there was a sand monster lying in wait for me. Shown here as we hit the ground – it has a gaping maw and scary eye, and you can see my helmet in the top right corner.

Everything was going just fine until I hit some fairly deep sand in a right-hand curve. When I realized what was happening, it was too late – the bike was on the ground faster than I could react. I remember very distinctly flying a short way through the air saying, “oh bugger,” as if I were suddenly British. Upon landing, I felt a small “pop!” in my right shoulder, which squarely absorbed all of the impact. “Oh, bugger indeed,” I mused, thinking I’d broken my clavicle or torn my rotator cuff. Both of my parents have torn their cuffs and said it was the most excruciating recovery of their lives. And it was a long recovery, too. Fuck. Noooo! Incidentally, Rich may have saved me the trouble of a broken leg by having me remove the hard cases – this was exactly the scenario he had described to me. Thanks, Rich!

Rich and Brett weren’t too far behind me. They got the bike up, and I said we needed to get going Right Now before this shoulder becomes A Very Big Problem. It felt like a very long ride to pavement and I took it very easy. Each time I had to move my right arm, agony, which increased every so often. Shoulders are complicated joints. In my head, I was negotiating the injury with the universe – “ok, a fractured clavicle over a rotator cuff, please. I can handle a bone break, that’s easy. Just don’t let it be the rotator cuff!”

We reached civilization and pulled off to the side of the road. Rich asked me what my plans were, and I said I was taking myself right to the emergency room on the way home. “Who are you going to call?” he asked.

“Oh, no one – I’ll just take care of everything myself, and if I need someone to get the bike from the hospital for me, I’m sure a few folks would help out.”

“But who are you going to call?”

I paused. “… I guess I’m not sure I understand what you’re asking…”

I’m an only child. A polite, Midwestern, only child, who assumes she can take everything on by herself. I hate inconveniencing people. I am not overly fond of asking for help. Rich assured me he had inconvenienced people in far greater ways, and offered to escort me to the ER in Escondido, and then to help with the bike. What a guy! I followed him to Palomar Health, a very nice facility. I’d guess from the point of impact to the time we arrived was perhaps two and a half hours.

To a person, everyone at the hospital was incredibly kind and friendly. There was a lot of laughing and joking around, and when they asked me my pain level and I said, “oh, about a 7,” the nurse said, “Oh, honey, no no – 10 is high, 1 is low.” “Right, I’m going to stick with a 7, because this bitch hurts. A lot. But acting like a jerk and being grouchy about it isn’t going to help anyone – don’t let the jokes fool you, I’m definitely not ok.” They offered pain meds, which I declined.

For me, “a high tolerance for something” (in this case, “pain,”) doesn’t mean you don’t feel the thing – it means you feel it, but it doesn’t affect you as much as it might another person. I have a high pain tolerance, but an insanely low itch or tickle tolerance. A mosquito bite that a normal person might be able to ignore will drive me insane. Being tickled in certain spots makes me very, very angry and uncomfortable. I am basically incapacitated by a minor case of poison ivy, but hell, slam my finger in a door and I’m going to giggle through the tears and carry on. They palpated, saying it felt more like an AC issue than a rotator cuff or broken clavicle, and popped me into a sling.

We waited for perhaps an hour for me to be taken to radiology, where a very sweet radiology student named Kimmy was my caretaker. Kimmy informed me I had to take off my bra. Ooooh, boy. That was not possible given I couldn’t move my arm much anymore. I mentioned previously it was hot, and that I was sweaty. Three or four hours had not improved that condition any. Oh, Kimmy… I’m so, so sorry. Maybe I could just leave now, rather than ask for help?

I apologized profusely and said I was going to need help. Unfazed, Kimmy dove into the sweaty miasma that was my back and between the two of us, managed to wrangle it off.  Because Kimmy was new, we had to redo several films, and then she brought out two bags of sand. I was to hold one in each hand while they took the next set of images to diagnose a possible AC tear/separation. Each bag weighed about 15 pounds. It was their turn to apologize because this was not going to be any fun for me.

It wasn’t.

Fortunately, those didn’t have to be redone, and that completed our tasks. Kimmy, herself sporting rather large breasts, asked if I were comfortable going without my bra. I looked into her eyes for a moment, and we both burst into laughter. “Comfortable” without a bra. Mmhm. Sure. Just get prepped for all the passers-by who will have black eyes as I walk past. Fortunately, I was wearing one of those HeatOut shirts that are fairly tight, clingy, and supportive, so the girls were less unruly than they might have otherwise been. I opted to forego having Kimmy deal with all the eDar sweat again, and just went without, comfortable or not, though I did keep my arms self-consciously crossed most of the time, and the sling helped.

Perhaps a half hour later, the radiologist came out to chat with me. He was probably about my age, super jovial, and a former rider himself. “You’re not 20 anymore, Erin,” he joked, and a small, sensitive part of me wanted to punch him right in the mouth hole for reminding me. Instead, I laughed. We proceeded to talk about the accident, and he said the R1200GS was an amazing machine, but far too big and too heavy for off-road. I told him that was a lengthy discussion for another time, but that I had about 50 friends who would disagree vociferously.

It took longer to be discharged than anything else, and I lamented all the riding I might be missing out on for awhile. “What am I going to do with my weekends,” I mused. “I know! I’ll do some snorkeling!” Wrong. I am not terribly bright – no, there would be no snorkeling, because that requires even more movement and joint stress than riding does. I supposed I could read. Or write. Or … something.

Rich and his lovely bride, Deb, loaded the GS into their truck and drove me home through rush-hour traffic, for which I was very, very grateful. It was as I was getting myself into the truck I noticed the oil leaking from the right valve cover. Shit. Yep, something was definitely not ok.

That first night was rough. Every time I moved, agony. Not much sleep was had, and I did end up taking a Norco I’d had from the year prior, when I ruptured my S1/L5 vertebral disk and had sciatica the likes of which I could barely stand.

Saturday, however… so much better! Vastly improved. Not good enough to ride, but I could function. In 2005, thanks to a freak alpaca incident, I was without the use of my left hand for about a year and a half.

That is a very, very long time to be at half-capacity for hands. I had to learn all kinds of coping strategies – How2Pants, How2GroceryCart, How2Shower, How2OpenJars, and so on. Not any fun whatsoever.

And that was my non-dominant hand. This was my right arm – might be a bit more difficult.

I dutifully wore my sling all day long, including to Saturday morning breakfast at Palomino’s with the gang. My dearest Phil did a lovely job of alllllmost not saying “I told you so,” and gave me a referral to his excellent osteopath. I can’t get in until the 23rd, but I hope they’ll be able to do an MRI that same day to check for soft tissue damage.

After breakfast, I ran some errands and found myself near a Rite Aid that I haven’t used before. Since I was there, I figured I’d fill my Norco and mega-Ibuprofen scripts there. They had my address from 2005 on file, which seemed strange. They also didn’t have any valid insurance information they could find, which seemed odd, given my Rite Aid has that. The scripts were from “out of the area” (20 minutes away?) so they don’t normally fill those kinds of controlled substance scripts. The pharmacist’s assistant kept looking at me sideways, and I’m sure she thought I was drug-seeking.

Not to downplay the opioid epidemic, but come on: The best I could hope for was, “WOOOOO! I FEEL A LITTLE DROWSY!!!

Fine. I’ll just go back to my own Rite Aid. They filled them without question, and I keep forgetting to go get them.

Sunday morning, I felt able to ride, so I did. I stayed toward the back of the New Member Ride group, and dutifully took it easy. My right boot was absolutely covered with oil by the end.

Monday, I was able to shoot some pool. Tuesday, things were a bit sorer. Today, Wednesday, things seem to have plateaued, so I’m looking forward to seeing the doctor Monday. It feels very much like an AC issue at this point, given where the pain is.

I had the bike fixed yesterday – both valve cover gaskets and an hour of labor. Could’ve been worse!

My first look at Ember’s innards.

All in all, I feel very lucky, and will not be deterred from doing more dirt. I also had a set of TKC 70’s mounted yesterday, and I am absolutely dying to see how different they feel off-pavement… but I know it would be stupid to risk reinjuring the same site. Maybe I’ll just go find a nice, flat dirt road somewhere. Or maybe… I could just be patient.

AAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. I couldn’t even type that with a straight face.

At any rate, photographic evidence:

Flickr Album here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/compassionate/albums/72157694950645384

Video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qNOqZpThFU

Now I’m off to pick up the headlight guard that’s just come in, because I can’t just ride up to the dealership once in any given week, no; it’s a three- or four-times-a-week gig for me. Luckily, I adore the staff and they tolerate me. 🙂

 

 

Back in the FJ Saddle

I had promised the FJ I’d take her out Saturday, but then couldn’t leave the GS at home for the club ride. Thus, I was saddled with the task of going for another ride when I got home – darn.

The day was young, barely after 13:00, when I set out. I didn’t feel like going North, so I hit the 8 East and bombed over to the Sunrise Highway which gave me a chance to get used to this bike again before hitting the twisties.

Holy crap I had forgotten how fast this thing is – it’s a much rawer motorcycling experience than the GS. With the GS, I feel connected to the bike; with the FJ, I feel connected to the road. Both experiences of course have their charms: The BMW is more refined (granted, I’m running in ROAD mode with hard suspension, not DYNA with hard – yet,) more comfortable, and more capable in adverse conditions, while the FJ is faster, lighter, nimbler, and more powerful. Did I mention “faster?” Holy. Shit.

The FJ also has some electronic modes – A, Standard, and B. I initially remembered which setting was “whee mode” and which was “rain mode” by thinking “A = Asshole/Aggressive, B = Boring.” Typically, I’ve kept it in Standard, because that’s a very nice middle ground, and would occasionally foray into Asshole Mode. Saturday, I went with Asshole. Whee!

When I first bought the FJ, it seemed so tall: My feet weren’t planted as firmly on the ground as with other bikes, and that was disconcerting. This seems so adorable now – my heels are able to touch the ground while fully and comfortably seated on the FJ, and this bike weighs 465 pounds – wet. Once I get ahold of Abe to have the GS saddle cut down a bit, this will be less of an issue, though.

While my ischial tuberosities were relatively unamused after about an hour, my adrenaline-soaked brain was purring.

Traffic was light, winds were reasonably calm, and the afternoon was just as perfect as the morning. Sixty-ish degrees at the top of Laguna.

You’ll be seeing the FJ on club rides again…. once I’m no longer on my honeymoon.