Me vs. Hair & Make-Up

I dressed up to Entertain for Thanksgiving.
Here’s how that went.
There is a LOT of swearing.
Halfway through, my camera changed settings and I also became Horse Face Woman – but failed to notice that for like an hour.

It’s All Love, Man

Our muses are our loves. People, places, machines, events. Simple as that. The muses change over time. One leaves. Another arrives. It’s always about love.

Douglas Grosjean

I try to live my life full of Love, and one of the ways I express that love is through photography. I may not be especially technically skilled, but I think I have a fairly decent eye for composition, framing, et cetera.

Sometimes, the photos don’t turn out the way I want them to, but, despite myself, they turn into something I might like even better – though I might not be able to place my finger on why.

R on his mighty K1100RS at the… at the…1999 something something Rally for Ironbutt types. I love the motion, and even though I didn’t move fast enough to freeze R in place, I think this is way cooler.

I love taking photos. I especially love taking candid photos of the people around me, ideally while they don’t even realize I’m there, so I capture an unadulterated Moment in their lives. I wish I could just invisibly melt into the visual background noise of any given situation so people wouldn’t feel self-conscious- ok, that sounds a little creepy; that’s not what I mean at all. I just want to capture the natural moment as it unfolds.

J has fully adapted to this Baja life.

When I carry a camera with me, I have to be very cognizant of time if I’m with anyone else. I get 100% lost in the macro, in the weirdly beautiful, or just the strikingly beautiful. I could spend hours photographing a tree or a set of rapids and be perfectly content. I have to be mindful that not everyone wants to stop every 13 inches or seconds to gaze with unmitigated awe at a snail and a tire track and a crushed pop can and a rose and a leaf floating in a puddle and the rivets on a plane wing and a splash of reflected color on a brick wall and and and and.

Circa 2000, my boyfriend and I were driving around a new area of Washington. I looked to my right and saw what I thought was the vertical stabilizer of a B-17. Of course, we immediately flipped around and went back: Indeed, we had stumbled upon the Yankee Lady, one of not many flying these days. I could’ve spent a year with her.

When I lurk around the periphery, or when you see me surreptitiously trying to sneak a shot with camera or phone, please forgive me. Smile, pose, or pretend not to have seen me, but I would beg of you not to get annoyed or to hold it against me. To be honest, my favorite is when you truly do not notice me, because in that moment, I am not looking for your Camera Face; I’m looking for you. When I take a photo of you, it’s because I appreciate you and I want to remember this moment myself, yes, but it’s also because maybe you’ll see the photo and you’ll love it, too, and it will make you happy, also.

This beautiful girl looked so contemplative as she gazed out the window, I couldn’t resist sneaking a photo of her. I liked the result and thought she might, too, so I overcame my fear of seeming totally creepy in favor of making her smile. She was really appreciative, and when I told her she looked very deep in thought, she told me the story of her travels – quite a journey ahead for this young woman. But this kind of shot, man – this is what I fucking love.
Another R on his horse near Chehalis, Washington, on my birthday.

For, you see, the shots I am taking are all ultimately about Love – of you, of the moment, of the surroundings, of the insane unlikelihood of us existing at all let alone having met, of everything – I’m trying to preserve a moment for you, for myself, to look back on. I want you to feel like someone cared enough to capture a moment in your life, like someone noticed you holding a certain expression, like someone witnessed time with you and wanted to remember it. Someone was present; someone was there with you and experienced the same thing from a different perspective and that’s something you now share for the better or for the worse depending upon the moment.

M striding across the Playa at Gerlach 2018. Sometimes, they see me coming; what are you gonna do.

Some perceive it as an intrusion into a private moment and are genuinely bothered, and for these times, I am truly sorry. Let me know; I’ll leave you be. I do not like posing for photos myself, but don’t mind nearly as much if I can at least pretend not to notice the camera. I get squirmy and I get Chandler Face.

Thus, because I know it might make people uncomfortable, it takes more than a little courage for me to point a camera at someone, especially strangers. My Midwestern Polite demeanor gets itchy and wants to make casseroles.

I could ask, but then I’d lose the moment.

G, J, and S2 boating in the Sea of Cortez
R wrenching on one of our derby cars.

Sometimes, it goes badly for the photo.

Occasionally, perhaps more than I want to admit, due to poor timing, the wrong equipment, bad lighting, lack of skill, whatever, the shot doesn’t turn out the way I envision. But I keep the photo, because it helps me remember the moment.

Even though I may not specifically go back and randomly recall a moment or event, seeing that photo will bring back the same emotions and a flood of memories. More often than not, a smile and maybe a little, “aw.”

E and J having a great time at our favorite bar in Baja.
Ani being fucking amazing, as is her wont. (aw)
Wade, Nick, and Ellen being blinded by OMFG SUDDEN BRIGHT HEADLIGHTS at XLADV.
J and R on their wedding day. Still makes me smile every time I see it. I don’t think this could be any more her. Even if it’s a little blurry. (aw)
Wendy’s dog, Jake, had been a very naughty boy and destroyed our office. This photo remains one of my favorites of all time, low-resolution, poor depth of field, and all. (all the aw)

Sometimes it goes about as expected.

T dousing T2 at one of my riding club’s annual parties and traditions.
S, looking glorious and beautiful, as she just can’t help doing.
I met M once – at the 2004 Reno Air Races, but holy wow did we ever hit it off and had an absolutely wonderful time raising hell together. Those truly were the days.
L petting a barn kitty at sunset on Orcas Island.

Sometimes, it’s better than I could have hoped.

And I thank my lucky stars every time this happens.

G sitting on the bar beach in Baja.
Wade gazing longingly at E’s HP2 Enduro at this year’s XLADV.
J at Bruno’s Country Club, Gerlach 2018. I hadn’t seen J in almost 20 years. He is still very J.
S2 admiring the centuries-old architecture of a mission in Baja. This one makes my heart skip a beat. Someone please tell me why.
E on the boardwalk at sunset after a weird day of riding last year.
E enjoying a pipe at Agua Caliente.
S2 happily looking forward to jumping into the Sea of Cortez with whale sharks.
S’s husband, also S, out on the trapeze of his catamaran, looking like a fucking boss.
I’m just going to put two more of these here. You know: For the art.
Fun day!
I have thus far found it’s rare for people to be able to look into the camera without smiling, or posing, or getting nervous – at the very least, there is usually a sudden armor on the face, in the eyes. Few people appear perfectly natural and comfortable. Even fewer people have the confidence to look not just at but into the camera, into the eventual viewer of the photo. Annie did.
V walking his bicycle in downtown Bellingham at a work event. I love this photo 10000% but I don’t even know why.
Same thing here: Love it – no clue why.

More often than not, it’s somewhere in the middle.

Not terrible, not special, just a random photo of a random moment. But I remember where it was taken and why.

C and A taking a moment at the Big Bear Camp-Out last year. That day is one none of us will ever, ever forget.
Julie waiting for her picture to be taken by a professional at Wolf Haven.

I take a lot of GoPro video, which often yields wonderful candid stills. Love them – I just have to pick the right split-second to grab, the one that’s the most that-moment/that-person.

S3 about to lead us on a dirt ride. I think he was probably surrendering to the chaos he knew would follow.
Chaos like this. I will never not laugh with absolute joy, love, and appreciation when I see this photo. That’s S3 going over on the bike there.
And chaos like this. That’s my bike. No, really, there’s a motorcycle there – no, behind S3. Yes, in the bush. No, typically motorcycles are not oriented like that. Thank you.
I believe P is the only one of us who did not fall down.

My favorite, of course, is The Real Camera, with which I can control depth of field, aperture, and so forth. It is also the absolute most conspicuous.

E, L, and G on our first night in Bahia, where they are about to experience the best daiquiri rocks and Cuba Libres they’ve ever had.
S2 being thoroughly amused by E’s story.
GS Trophy Team member Lisa Taylor (right) at this year’s GEICEO ADV Rally in Julian. I love her friend’s happy, laughing face.

Remembering. That’s so important for me, and, as I stare down the barrel of turning 50 next year, I am extremely cognizant of my mother’s struggle with memory (early onset dementia, compounded by a TBI.) I joke about being a space cadet, but internally, I am terrified.

What if it’s not a lack of paying attention, what if it’s not being cavalier with details – what if it’s something pathological. What if I’m on the other side of this photo in twenty years?

Sidenote: As I was linking this photo up, I had a powerful flashback to the night before I moved to Seattle – Christmas Eve, 1999. We were in a hotel room, and my mother had taken her bedtime drugs, so was sleepy and a little out of it. I was doing a lot of birding in those days. Mom was having a hard time with me moving so far away, but there was a part of her that was trying to find something positive, something happy for me, to focus on: “Will there be birds for you to look at?” she asked, in a very childlike voice. “Yes – many, many beautiful birds, Mom.” It just about makes me cry, the innocence and the desperation of it.

Sometimes I worry that by being so consumed by capturing moments that I am not fully living them. I suppose that could be true, but having experienced a great many unphotographed moments, I don’t know that I really notice a difference. I take such pleasure, such abject joy, in photography that it only adds to the experience (unless it detracts from someone else’s.) I feel a tiny bit of anxiety when I really want to take a photo, but cannot.

I’ve delved into that a bit and I think it’s due to a combination of things:

  • Worrying I won’t remember the moment later, even without dementia
  • Wanting to share it with other people
  • Maybe a wee touch of, if I don’t have proof, did this really happen?
  • A whole heaping lot of, maybe this will stir a memory for me if I end up like her.

When I’m too old and infirm to do much of anything anymore, put me down in front of whatever thing that’s like Flickr in those times and let me browse back over all the little vignettes I’ve gathered. Maybe reliving things with visual aids will ease the burden of not having any burdens at all, other than my own frail and failing body.

So, my friends – the original intention here was to convey my love and appreciation for all of you whom I have photographed, and to those of you whom I someday will. I will cast you in the best light I possibly can, I will never intentionally embarrass or shame you, I will not publish them if you do not want them to be published. With love comes respect and a general wish for your overall happiness and well-being.

We’re all in this together, sharing. Sometimes, I like something tangible to remind me.

The Conversations I Have with Myself

It is 8:43pm.

Basically, bedtime is right around the corner.

“Hey, I’m hungry,” it begins. It happens every night, hell, it happens every few hours some days.

“No, you’re not. We’re not hungry. We’re thirsty.”
“Ok, so go to the kitchen.”
“I don’t need to go to the kitchen, I have a flat of Bublys right here.”
“Yeah, but ice.”
“In the history of ever, when have we”
“Yeah yeah, fine, but just go into the kitchen, ok?”
“NO. You want me to go into the kitchen to be visually tempted by All the Things.”
“Nuh-uh. I want some milk.”
“You do not.”
“…A chocolate cherry smoothie has milk in it…”
“Yes, it does. I am not making one, it is bedtime right now.”
“You could put vodka in it.”
“Oh, stop it. BED. TIME.”


“I want some candy.”
“Of course you do.”
“How about some oatmeal? Apple cinnamon.”
“We just ate that for dinner.”
“We could order cake from Grubhub. Or frozen yogurt.”

“No. How about a nice salad.”
“Gross.”
“It is not.”
“Ok, how about a soda.”
“No, we are not having a soda. Too much sugar. Four out of five dentists do not recommend a Coke before bed.”
“What about a little soda?”
“No.”
“…what about a diet soda?”
“…”
“What?”
“I’m trying to think of something to argue about with that and I’m having a hard time. All I’ve got is ‘aspartame is bad for you’ and ‘so is all that acid.'”
“So let’s go into the kitchen and get one.”
“That’s it, there it is – you’re just luring me into the kitchen, and then before I know it, I’ll be making a batch of brownies or shoveling yogurt into my face by the spoonful right out of the container. NO. No, we are going to enjoy this cherry Bubly and then we are going to bed.
“You never let me do anything.”
“I let you get away with murder for 44 years, I think you had a pretty good run there.”
“… so what’s another few years, give or take?”
“NO.”

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.