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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Sometimes it goes about as expected.
Sometimes, it’s better than I could have hoped.
And I thank my lucky stars every time this happens.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
[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.
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
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.
ERIN, GET YOUR PISTOL!
Real-life situations aren’t cool.
Sorry, for real this time. T-Rex?
Thanks, not bad.
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.
Oh, you are not.
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.
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.
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.”
“Hard ROAD, 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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
Whether a bike has a name is not related to whether I especially like it; take, for example, the 1997 1200 Bandit – one of my most favorite bikes ever, but it never chose a name. See also the damnable K100RS. That bike and I fought tooth and nail from Day One, but she named herself almost immediately. It is still a mystery to me how I completed my Bun Burner Gold astride it. I suppose I should chalk that success up to the Russell Day Long Saddle and call it good.
My beloved FZ1 never chose a name and had some gender identity issues. The FJ09, same.
The FJ and I had a bumpy start in large part due to the absolute crap stock tires. Many times now, I’ve said those tires were like having sex with 4 condoms on: You know something is going on down there, but you’ve got no real idea what. I couldn’t stick securely to the pavement, let alone feel what road conditions were like.
Having spent quite a few years on the phenomenal Pilot Road and Pilot Power series, this was extremely unsettling and I didn’t trust the grip. That, coupled with the extremely sensitive fly-by-wire throttle, coupled further with the almost-too-tall saddle height, and it was a recipe for unease. The upright seating position was super weird for me, too, and even the bars and grips fought me – both hands became very numb after about 15-20 minutes for the first several weeks I rode. The saddle is like a plank, but it’s comfortable for a good 4-5 hours before my behind really starts getting antsy.
It was not, shall we say, “love at first sight.” However, I’d done my research, and I sensed its potential, so I signed the papers a few days before Chuck, Lorraine, and I left for our Gerlach, NV trip. Do I regret that decision now? Maybe. However, finances aside, the FJ did a great job prepping me for the GS – had I leapt directly from the FZ to the GS, I might have been wholly unprepared.
Still a damn fine platform.
Eventually, the FJ and I reached a state of reasonable detente: I loved its performance, but disliked a small but significant number of items. Then, about 10,000 miles in, I replaced the stock Sportmax tires with my preferred PR 4’s, and holy wow, what a difference. The whole way home from the dealership after having them mounted, I was wondering, “what the hell is that feeling?” Most of the way home, I realized, “Oh – that’s The Road, the thing I’ve been missing for 10k miles.”
My confidence soared, my cornering improved, and I was able to keep up with some of my favorite riding partners. Finally. It was like remembering how to ride after having been in a six-month haze.
Despite this much-improved situation, the FJ was (and is) limited to the pavement for all intents and purposes. She does not much care for dirt, much less gravel or mud or large bumps. My eye began to wander, and my BMW Owners Club of San Diego cohorts were only too happy to begin selling me on a BMW R1200GS as The Perfect Mount.
I’d estimate 80% of this club rides a GS. I don’t like “fitting in” and doing what all the cool kids are doing, so I wasn’t initially at all interested in saddling up to look like everyone else. However. Years ago, I learned that sometimes, when something is really popular, it’s not just trendy – sometimes, it’s actually an amazing product.
I resisted, and hard. The last (and only) time I rode a GS was back in 1999, and I found it far too tall, too heavy, and entirely “meh.” I was a sport-touring rider – I wanted a sportbike, and the GS was most definitely not that. Not then. My K1100RS and I were perfectly happy together.
When I began riding with this club, there was a guy on a red Ducati for the first few rides. I remember thinking, “this guy is kind of slow, maybe next time I’ll pop in front of him in line.”
On the next ride, Red Ducati Guy (whose actual name is Phil, now one of my most favorite people around) showed up on his R1200GS and absolutely killed it. I couldn’t have kept up with him if I tried. My mind was blown – what in the actual hell? The GS was bigger, heavier, had ADV tires on it, and seemed an unlikely candidate for that kind of performance.
Boy howdy, was I ever misinformed.
Damn near everyone in this club who is at the front of the pack rides a GS, and there are several metric honkloads of reasons why, all of which can be summed up thusly: They’re fucking amazing. In every way.
They are also, of course, somewhat spendy for the newer models. I still wasn’t ready to entertain it as a bike for me.
Fast-forward several months, during which time my friends were exceptionally… “helpful”… in guiding me toward a GS. Phil was especially relentless – it seemed like not 10 minutes went by without a reminder.
All this talking got me to the point where I was willing to at least give one a test ride. Our former club President, Edward, conveniently works at the local BMW shop. I went in looking for a lowered GS, thinking that would probably be the only model I could conceivably keep afloat. Edward, a master salesman, calmly helped me to realize that a standard GS with the seat in the low position would probably be workable.
And it was.
Off I went on a test ride – standard GS, low seat position. After about 45 minutes in rush-hour traffic, I headed back to the barn: Everyone was right. The GS is a superlative platform, and I was pretty comfortable on the standard version. Edward, bless his soul, gets a fair share of the credit for winning me over.
The bike that started it all: The first modern-era GS I’d ridden. Standard height, low saddle.
That price tag, though. It was north of $15k, which was about $5k more than I ideally wanted to spend. I told him I’d have to think on it and do some math.
The following weekend, Phil & Mike Mc. helpfully escorted me up to the other local-ish BMW shop in Escondido, where they had not one, not two, but four lowered GS’s on the premises. I immediately found the one I liked best – a 2016 Triple Black with 5500 miles, crash bars, heated grips, and other assorted fineries. Phil led me on a supremely fun test ride that lasted perhaps a half hour. My feet look flat-footed when I’m on this bike, but in truth they’re not quite all the way down. My boot soles may be fully on the ground, by my heel inside the boot is about a half-inch off the insole. Still, I am reasonably stable.
This bike had so many enticing features in addition to the above: Cruise control, spoked wheels, dark smoke screen, newer ADV-type tires, hard bags (which will soon be swapped out with my existing Givis,)
That was the bike. That was the one. It was also $18k – no way. Rudy, the excellent sales guy I was working with, ran some numbers on financing with me, and they just weren’t appealing at all. I told him I had to pass, waved goodbye to that bike (which would surely be snapped up immediately after I left,) and went on about my life.
Visions of that bike literally kept me awake at night. It haunted me. I couldn’t fall asleep. If I woke up in the middle of the night, my brain immediately latched right back onto it. NO, I kept telling myself – you’re in enough financial hot water as it stands, missy, let’s not compound matters. Ok? Ok.
Phil seized upon this bike almost as much as I did. When I got home, this was waiting for me:
He was relentless, spamming me with memes of his dogs (truly, the lowest of the low:)
Greg was also an enthusiastic contributor, dropping helpful links on my Facebook wall for me to consider.
A week went by, and the bike had not sold. I remained resolute – it just wasn’t meant to be.
I received a very nice tax return that would’ve covered half the bike. NOPE, pay down credit cards. Ok, pay down the cards and buy some farkles for the FJ.
Shortly thereafter, I got a modest raise at work that would cover the payment almost exactly. Shit. Nope, nope, nope – pay down the credit cards!
I would check the website daily… maybe a few times daily… to see if it had sold. Nope, still there.
Then, last Saturday morning, I woke up and they had dropped the price by $1,000. It was a fairly miserable, rainy day and no one in the club wanted to ride after breakfast save David. He was amenable to riding up to the dealership via back roads to see what was up with the bike.
Up we went. I don’t like riding in the rain, especially out here where the roads don’t get rained on very often. The oil and other build-up on the pavement is treacherous, not to mention all the detritus on the road from the adjacent landscape: Sand, mud, rocks, you name it.
We arrived, and there she was. I said hello and looked her over before going to find Rudy. “If you can do $16k out the door, I’ll buy it right now,” was my initial offer. He chuckled a bit and started working numbers.
Soon thereafter, Phil wandered in, an expectant grin on his face. He was there to get an intercom system installed on his wife’s helmet, but he was pretty excited about this new bike prospect, too.
Rudy was able to drop the price down to $16,250 – nice. However, that left a nasty sales tax and registration fee to deal with. Out the door, about $17,600. Whuff.
I had to think long and hard about this.
As I was contemplating, Scott R. showed up. Then Tony C. I felt like the club was crawling out of the woodwork to bear witness.
After talking with my bank, getting Rudy to match their interest rate, and a lot of hand-wringing… I took the leap.
I signed the papers.
I now own a drop-dead gorgeous, practically new, factory-lowered 2016 R1200GS Triple Black.
Phil might have been almost as thrilled about this as I am – that grin lit up the surrounding six counties. Pictured below, a trace of that grin as he looks upon his GS, my GS, and Gary A.’s GS, all in a pretty row at Cameron Corners.
Putting a grin on Phil’s face was almost as much fun as getting the bike.
After receiving many high-fives and congratulations, I mounted up and Dave led me home. I had asked him to take it easy, given the solid rain going on. As it turns out, that wasn’t even remotely necessary – the bike didn’t seem to notice anything out of the ordinary and just stuck smoothly to the road. Two-thirds of the way back, I told Dave I didn’t want to stop riding.
Here’s the email I wrote when I got home:
The end of one era, the beginning of another
erin darling Mar 10 to BMW Chatter
A girl can only hold out for so long when the universe jumps up and down trying to get her attention.
That I lasted as long as I did is a minor miracle, but as of about noon today, I capitulated and bought the triple black GS, much to the delight of all parties present. It started out with only Dave and me, but then out of the woodwork there suddenly was Phil. And then Scott R. And then Tony C.
Many grins, many high-fives. Phil now has to find something else to torment me with – I am confident it will take him about 8 nanoseconds to come up with something utterly demonic.
This bike, though.
I didn’t want to go home, despite the persistent and often enthusiastic rain: I’m not sure the bike even realized the roads were wet. A kazillion raindrops needling into my face couldn’t put a dent in my grin.
Today, Derek rode the FZ1 to Gio’s and I handed over the last of the paperwork – she’s gone. Goodbye, dearest heart – you were loved desperately. That era is over for me.
Tomorrow, as we say goodbye to Gio’s and close out yet another chapter, I’ll introduce you to my hot new bride as we embark on our honeymoon. It’ll be a long ride day for me – I’ll start with you guys, do that up, and then head out for whatever distant destination beckons (company welcome, of course.)
Thanks for all the advice, encouragement, and even the harassment – my stubborn side doesn’t let peer pressure get to me, but I couldn’t stand all the arrows pointing more and more brightly to this bike.
When I inevitably drop it and can’t pick it up, I will perhaps have a moment’s regret, but then in a bit I’ll be underway and grinning again (unbroken body parts allowing.)
The next morning, I was One of Us. Below, Tony C., with Edward (who is still speaking to me, even) in the background.
It’s a little uncomfortable, frankly, to be riding the same bike most other people are also riding, but I Get It Now. It’s silly to avoid something amazing just to avoid being one of the herd. Some things (oxygen, water, and GS’s) are worth a little herd-hanging.
Phil has already found his next thing to torment me with:
That is Phil’s Ducati. There is an approximately 0% chance of me buying one anytime soon, if ever. NO, REALLY.
Sunday’s ride involved a lot of still-damp pavement, but the bike did not notice or care. I’m not used to ADV-type tires that are designed for on- and off-road use. The tires currently mounted are not aggressive dirt tires at all, but they’re less sporty than I’m accustomed to, and I was initially quite concerned about that.
As we set out, I kept thinking, “I can’t really feel the road,” and the bike kept saying, “let me worry about the road – you just settle in and enjoy the ride. Get used to the shift assist, take in the scenery. I’ve got this.” And so she did.
It is an exercise in trust for us both: She says, “I’m trusting you to use the clutch sometimes, and also not to wrap us around a tree. You can trust me to do the rest. I promise.”
“I’m going to tip you over at some point, you realize… I’m… I’m sorry in advance.”
“Tipping over is okay – let’s just make sure that’s the worst that happens.”
My lack of concern about the lack of pavement sensation was in itself disconcerting, but I quickly got used to it. There is a very noticeable pull toward the outside of the curve at speed – I can definitely feel the low center of gravity pulling down and outside. However, it feels like something that will be easily predictable once I get used to it – it seems like a constant increase in pull related to speed and weight, not a variable one based on whatever.
There was only one vanishingly brief moment on the ride where I felt a little concern – on a road I’d not been on previously, I went into a turn that was sharper than it initially appeared to be and the pavement was seriously uneven. I heeled over, hit a few bumps, felt the rear end slip juuuuust a touch, and then everything was fine and smooth again. A non-event. On the FJ, that might have been Much Badness due to the wallowing after hitting a bump mid-curve.
Those western bits on Highland Valley Road where there are Significant Pavement Anomalies mid-curve? The ones I was always astounded no one seemed to care about? The ones that nearly threw me off the road? Non-issues.
The bike has a feature I initially held in a bit of contempt: “Shift Assist Pro.” This essentially renders the clutch irrelevant for 80-90% of all shifts, and a lot of the club members rave about it. I’ve been using clutches on vehicles since 1985 – “Oh no,” I thought, “having to pull a lever once in awhile – how terrible.” The thing is, though, being able to be lazy (which isn’t all bad in this case) isn’t the only perk; it’s also safer with the assistance. Upshifting takes a fraction of a second and makes acceleration smoother and faster. The real glory, however, is downshifting – especially in a curve, if necessary. Granted, with shift assist downshifting, the throttle should ideally be fully closed, which isn’t where one typically wants to be in a curve (if you’ve got the throttle closed and you’re still going too fast, you’ve made a mistake in judgment of speed and gear selection,) but even with the throttle mostly closed, it’s a really fast, buttery-smooth event that doesn’t fuck with one’s line very much. No wallowing.
I was not ready to be done when the group was, so I hit the 15 and headed back up north to meet with a friend who had recently picked up a bike himself. We cruised over to Borrego Springs at a leisurely pace, enjoying the views along Montezuma. At one point, I had to pull over to the side to let my friend catch up, and in so doing, allllmost dropped it to the right. I caught enough traction and strength to keep her from going over at the last possible second. There is most definitely a lean-angle “Rubicon” point on this machine, and I’m sure I’ll find it sooner rather than later. Thank goodness for the crash bars.
This is the nicest, best-appointed bike I have ever owned. Yesterday, Thursday, I took a couple-few-hour trip around our usual routes. Temperatures varied from 64 down to 49, and on other bikes, numbers south of 62 tend to get me pretty chilled without warm gloves and a down liner in my jacket.
As I was getting a tiny bit chilly, I had a Matrix/”I know kung-fu” moment:
The upper forties required neither my super-warm-even-when-not-plugged-in Widder gloves nor my down liner. It was glorious. On the freeway home, another epiphany:
So this is what having a modern bike is like! Bells! Whistles!! Hand relief! TECHNOLOGY!!
In short, I am bonding with this bike really well. There are moments when I feel like a modern-day cowboy with a beloved horse. I liken Ducatis to Arabian stallions: They are high-strung, expensive, twitchy, and will buck you off if you’re not paying attention. The FJ was nowhere near that level of finicky, but I’d place her at maybe half-Arabian gelding when in “standard” mode. “Standard” is performance-with-manners-oriented. In “aggressive” mode, which I seldom use, it might get bumped up to full-Arabian gelding. Mode A is “holy-shit-hold-on-and-hope.”
The GS? Thoroughbred. Pure elegance, exquisite smoothness underway, a bit on the large side, but capable of doing pretty much anything. It is not a barrel racer, but it is insanely fast and agile for its size and weight. It is not a carriage-pulling Draft Horse, but it has significant low-end power. I’ll keep her in “rain” mode for a bit to get used to all the things, and then we’ll start having some real fun.
What I lack in height I also lack in upper-body strength: I learned yesterday that I cannot get her up on the centerstand, or at least haven’t yet figured out how – even with the suspension on HARD, it’s a non-starter with my lousy back. Given I don’t have a chain to lube (WOOOOO!!) that won’t be a frequent problem, per se, but I would like to be able to throw her up there as needed. I’ll figure it out, likely by putting it onto “two-up with luggage” mode.
Further, what I lack in self-restraint I also lack in common sense: I am not known for my good financial decisions (case in point, this one right here.) I’m a “leap now, look later” sort of person. I have faith things will somehow, some way, work out and that I’ll be ok.
Buying this bike is a leap of faith that I’ll land on my feet. It’s a leap that I’ll develop the skills to keep it upright under emergency conditions if I don’t already have them. It’s a leap, much like entering a blind curve – we trust it’ll be fine, and if it’s not, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Ah, yes – A kazillion words later, I’ve remembered my original point: Names. We’ve tried a few names on for size, bandying them back and forth between us (I know I’m insane, no need to point it out.) She suggested “Sue” at one point, to which I immediately issued a peremptory challenge. No thank you, please.
There are two strong contenders – one more meaningful than the other (but also far less interesting.) Both are very appropriate. We’ll see which she chooses soon.
I began my day by swearing a lot: Cranky customers with unreasonable demands, followed by Motorcycle Shenanigans. Per usual, the latest piece of SW-Motech frippery came with absolute crap instructions. No order of operations, just a bag of bits, a terrible diagram, and a tech writer laughing his ass off somewhere. The instructions were basically, “put this on your bike.” Thanks!
To add insult to virtual injury, I opened my right pannier to discover that, at some point, the liter of water I carry had up-ended and emptied itself and my tool roll had been swimming around and marinating in it for God knows how long. Long enough to grow a nice, healthy amount of rust on the majority of my tools. I don’t carry many of my Craftsman tools in the roll – that’ll teach me. “Hey, Sears! I ran over this with a steam roller – please give me a new one for free, thanks.”
Ok, Google – how to remove rust from tools?
After an hour and only having to redo things three times, I managed to get the Givi topcase more or less secured to the SW-Motech tail rack. Score. Life is good! Off to Gio’s for the usual Sunday romp. The topcase, despite being the smaller model of the two offered, is Fricking Enormous:
On the plus side, if I do cave and buy the GS, I can live in the topcase since I will be unable to afford my rent.
It was a small turnout for our Sunday ride today – only a pair of Scotts, a couple of Chucks, one Rex, one Mike, one Phil, one Larry, and I set out toward Lyons Valley. In the parking lot at Gio’s, the taller Scott and the Rex laid out our route. “There’s an amazing road leading to Boulder Creek, but we’re not doing Boulder Creek because it’s dirt, so we’ll just do a u-turn.”
Okeydokey! Off we went.
Spoilers: This is us “not doing Boulder Creek.” Thanks to Scott D. for the photos!
Other than a few spots of detritus from the weather here and there, Lyons Valley and environs were in pretty good shape. It was a brisk 44 degrees at times, but the down jacket and my Widder gloves kept me plenty warm. In several places, we could see snow falling a few hundred feet above us, though the sun was generous with us for the duration. Larry, Mike, and one of the Chucks waved off at the 8, while the rest of us carried on, three of us blissfully unaware of what was in store.
I hadn’t been on the roads leading to Boulder Creek before – they were, as promised, Quite Amazing.
We reached the pavement’s end, where Rex and the Scotts dutifully stopped, cognizant of their non-dirt-enthusiast cohorts in tow. Well, the lankier Scott stopped – the ponytailed Scott was too eager to play and plowed ahead until he realized the rest of us had halted and eventually came back for us.
The kinder Scott D. flipped around and came back to talk to those of us he knew were not especially keen on pavement-free riding. I could see the yearning coming off him in waves – he wanted this road so very badly. It was singing its siren song to him, and he was vibrating with eagerness to answer. I know the power of lust – Who am I to deny him what seems to be one of his favorite kinds of fun? If I’d said “Nah, no thank you, please,” I suspect the rest of them might have politely turned around with me. Maybe. Regardless, I’m not one to turn down a challenge on two wheels. Usually. (This will kill me one day.)
The road before us looked like any other slightly damp dirt road – nooooo problem. How bad could it be? I know better than to think this – I wondered “how bad could it be” when Markus et al told me about “the really bad potholes” south of El Rosario in Baja. Well, those were pretty effing bad – so bad that a statistically significant portion of my brain just wanted to crash so I could stop thinking about potholes for more than a nanosecond. Maybe take in the view. Ha.
So here we were, heading off on Adventures. My brand new Pilot Road 4’s slurked up enough mud to turn them into racing slicks after about a foot and a half, but things were pretty chill.
Soon, mud, clay, and other nonsense presented themselves, most often in corners, and it became less “adventure” and more “ordeal.” How often that is the case, though – tomorrow’s “funny story” is Right Now’s fucking shitshow.
Poor Chuck H. had brand new tires on his XR, but he is an accomplished dirt rider. I have spent about an hour in dirt – almost 20 years ago, with this very same Chuck, in a very dry, very flat, Black Rock Desert. I don’t know How to Dirt. At all.
Have I mentioned that I have not yet bought The Perfect GS That Has Been Begging Me to Buy it for the Last Two Weeks? I have not. It is still sitting in the showroom, squeaky clean and perfect, much to everyone’s apparent disappointment (particularly Phil’s and his dog memes’ disappointment.) My resolve remains intact.
But we’re not talking about GS’s or my lack thereof, although this road would have likely been far less unpleasant on one. REGARDLESS.
The remaining Chuck was behind me, which was probably rather painful for him – watching me clumsily navigate the “road,” plus being held back by my turtle’s pace. Even a fully-laden swallow would have been going significantly quicker than I was.
Mud. Clay. Sand. Gravel. The occasional pile of cow shit (shown below:)
Shown here: A very unamused Phil with some poop.
A new, quite pronounced button tuck in my saddle. Knuckles so white they must have glowed through my thick winter gloves.
“Just relax. Just relax. Let the bike do what it’s going to do, let physics work. RELAX!!! WHY AREN’T YOU RELAXING?!?!” I kept muttering to myself.
Physics, despite being pretty predictable, can seem like a fickle bitch to the inexperienced (read, “me riding in mud.”) My head knew (only from having been told) “go faster to keep stable,” but my eyes saw mud and my lizard brain said “WHAT!?!?!? FUCK THAT, SLOW THE FRICK DOWN, MISSY. Jinkies!”
First gear. Second gear. Standing up. Sitting down. Standing up again. Foot allllmost down in the muddy curves.
“THIS IS GREAT!! LET’S DO IT AGAIN!!”
Oh good, there’s Scott D. waiting for us with his phone camera – At least the sunglasses hid my wide-as-saucers eyes, right? Wave at the camera? Ha; that would require unclenching my paw.
Washboard surfaces varying from violent sine waves to v tach. The occasional small river flowing across the road.
I’m sure there were gorgeous views to be had, but I surely didn’t see any of them. Would I rather ride this or Mexico 1 near Catavina? Tough decisions.
Occasionally, when the road was particularly bendy and wound back on itself for awhile, I would catch a fleeting glimpse of one of the guys approximately 6 miles ahead, and I could feel the grin all the way back where I was.
We slogged on. Periodically, The Scotts and Rex would stop and wait for us. When we caught up, they would (I assume) cackle maniacally and tear off around the next soggy bend. As I followed their trail, I could see they were having a great time – mud and sand thrown up where they’d goosed the throttle mid-turn — the very same turn where I was in first gear, desperately trying to keep my tires turning but not spinning, and the bike upright despite it wanting to slide down the sloped “road” and into the ditch. Occasionally being passed by elderly persons on their daily constitutionals.
Much like on Mexico 1, there was a small but loud part of my brain that irrationally and stupidly wanted to give up. “I’ve enjoyed about as much of this as I can stand.”
In an email to the club, I wrote:
Afterward, at the Chairs, I mentioned about halfway through that muck I was thinking, “yknow, I could just stop and live here forever. That would be fine.”
Scott D. said, “yeah, it’s beautiful up there, isn’t it?”
Yes. Yes, that is what I was thinking. It was most definitely not “fuck this shit with a wheelbarrow.”
I resigned myself to the fact that today was the day I’d drop the FJ – at least it would be at slow speeds and (I hoped) on soft mud. Maybe I wouldn’t break anything on the bike or on myself, even! Winning!
I had literally no idea where we were or how long it would take to reach the end of this road: Ten minutes? An hour? Thursday?
Eventually, after several dozen more fishtails and before the sun went down, no less, I caught up to the crew under the tree where we stop on Engineer’s Road. Everyone was already parked, dismounted, and well-rested. I looked at the area under the tree: Hell if I was parking in the soggy dirt – I kept the even-more-filthy-than-usual FJ on the pavement, thank you very much.
Look at those happy faces! I’m glad we went.
I dismounted, and there were high-fives all around, comments about “rites of passage,” and so forth. The elder Scott said something about looking forward to the story I would write about the matter (here ya go, bud.)
Truth be told, I can see how that ride would be a hell of a lot of fun for someone who a.) knows what they’re doing, and b.) has an appropriate bike to tackle it. Sadly, I do not fall into either camp, but somehow, some way, I managed to stay upright. The Mighty FJ 09 persevered – who needs a GS, right?
(Hush, Phil. And Greg.)
(And everyone else “helping” me to decide.)
As an added plus, the Givi topcase didn’t bounce off, and neither did the GoPro I’d forgotten all about under the tail rack. Score. But my bike is dirty! My spotless, meticulously polished… no wait, that’s not me. It’s never me. My bikes are always dirty.
All in all, I love riding with these guys anywhere – even Engineer’s Road, even whatever the hell this nonsense was, to Hell and back, wherever: I’ll follow them, and I’ll keep on admiring their insane riding skills. I’m incredibly lucky to be able to come along and have them put up with me.
I could ride with them 12 hours a day every day and still have a grin on my face at the end of it all.
Many of you are familiar with my complete aversion to online dating – It gives me the screaming heebie jeebies. Nevertheless, having utterly failed to meet any single people who seemed like Dating Material, I decided to enter that particular fray One. More. Time.
Once more unto the breach…
[Incidentally, if you haven’t seen Brannagh’s “Henry V,” fucking do it. Possibly the best Shakespeare film ever.]
There was an approximately zero percent chance I would ever give OkCupid another go – that site is a good idea that turned into a complete shitshow. It’s a nightmare for all genders, an onslaught of both information and assholes. The whole thing is awful. When I first moved out here, I got onto OKC (as the hep cats call it) for about a minute and a half in the hopes of meeting people to ride with or possibly date. Silly, silly me.
I met with one guy as a potential riding buddy (nooooo dating potential at all there,) but he was only interested in dating. That, and shoving information about every detail of his (actually really shitty) old WRX at me. Fine, there’s the door. No, really – go away. No, it’s not the ratty car – it’s your ratty personality. Fuck. Off. Off you shall fuck!
I met a second guy, who is actually wonderful, but who is also 20 years my junior and a fair distance away. He’s perfect for someone, but not for me – we still chat online, and have hung out a couple of times platonically. He’s a fucking phenomenal author, incredibly woke, and just generally super cool. I’ll put that one into the “win” column in terms of meeting someone interesting, even though dating isn’t an option.
A couple of women I know here in San Diego recommended Bumble, an app driven entirely by women — only women can initiate a conversation if both people indicate interest. This cuts down on the volume of dick pics and random assholes by orders of magnitude. The profiles have only a tiny amount of space to try to catch someone’s eye, which has its pros and cons.
I am profoundly outclassed. The devs apparently front-load a new user’s experience with the wealthiest, most classically beautiful people in the fucking world. I joked on Facebook the other day that this is how I typically compare with what seemed to be the “average” Bumble user:
Their profile: “CEO of $THING, singlehandedly funded $PHILANTHROPIC-THING. Clean-eating. Passionate and fun. Here is a photo of me holding a perfect Crow Pose on my yacht in Tahiti – notice my 72 abs. President Obama came to me for advice. Fit, athletic, motivated, spiritual, deep thinker. Love dogs. Invented powdered sugar. I organically grow my own cars. Award-winning National Geographic photographer. Working on a cure for Alzheimer’s. Here’s another photo of me being genuinely happy and quirky in the company of many beautiful people. Work out 18 days a week. Seeking a partner with all these same attributes and more. Ego plus quam perfectum, et ego in æternum vive.”
What I would have to say to such a person: “So… I went to Mexico on my motorcycle once. I’m really bad at yoga, but I do like powdered sugar. I make terrible financial decisions, and I can’t take a good photo to save my life – Chandler Syndrome, ha ha. Wait, you never watched ‘Friends?’ You found it trite and boring? Ok, ok. Anyhow, I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. What’s that? Yes, I am 47 years old. What’s that face about? I listen to NPR… I stand up for other people, and I … sorry, I got distracted thinking about powdered sugar. Oh hey, you speak French!!”
Hi Doctor –
space cadet nerd atheist,,, awkward dull chubby maybe fun numbers go here… born and raised, um, literally in the middle of a cornfield… traveled also. I traveled to the store just this afternoon, in fact, and also went to the bank. Obviously, I’m going to need a nap after all of that activity. I do not like children. @jupiter (also a planet!) semi-adventurer,like the idea of being an activist but bad at it,animal lover too! I also love spaces after punctuation, so I have to stop that nonsense immediately. Luv 2eat pudding say things breathe sleep watch shows while on edibles… and here I am, talking to you and seeing! Hey, by the way, I have this growth thing right on the front of my face – what might that be? It’s about 6 inches in diameter and smells terrible. OK THANKS HAVE A NICE DAY HEY TELL ME ABOUT YOUR PENIS.
(The penis thing comes in a bit later.)
Those who didn’t sound like completely pretentious tools seemed to be far too conventionally attractive and down to Earth to even give me a second glance (not that I would want them to:)
Hi David –
Jesus fuck, are those your actual arms, or did you have bear arms surgically grafted onto your body? I, too, know some words. Here are some now:
mittens poodle swim trunks (is that too suggestive?) stoichiometry (I IZ SMARTS!) egg faucet
I’ve heard people say that I am super awkward and they do tend to stare when I dance, so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice. But who knows, maybe they were just… no, they were right, I’m a terrible dancer. I have made a series of unfortunate financial and career choices, so I will be working literally until the day I die. WRITE ME BACK OK THANKS BYE.
Hi James, 54!
Born in the middle of nowhere. Lived elsewhere for quite a few years. Ran my own business for 6 years and then gave it away for free to my best friends back home. I, too, am Single, though not really into the sportsball – but I fucking love watching hockey and MMA. Couldn’t tell you a damn thing about who’s competing these days, mind you, because who has that kind of time? Manhattan is terrible. Uniformly. Oh wait, we’re just saying words now! This seems to be a popular pastime on Bumble. Bees, Doritos, tabletop, roof tiles, appetizer! Looking for… you know what? Never mind. You are not at all what I’m after.
Many of these ostensibly “perfect” men and women put literally nothing in their profiles – they rely solely upon their (admittedly fantastic, yet wholly unappealing to me) photos to sell themselves. Who reaches out to someone like this, knowing literally nothing about him?
I’ll show you who – Tamara, who relies on a similar tactic, and is…. oh. Oh my…
Gosh, Tamara –
Blush. Stumble. Um. So, live around here often?
A few have interesting profiles, but what the hell would I say to someone like this?
Hi Alexandre –
I’m Erin (nope, just plain ol’ E-r-i-n.) While I have never danced on a kitchen, per se, I have danced in a kitchen – and I broke three toes doing it because there was a fucking table in the middle of the floor. I, too, enjoy eating delicious things in places (it looks like you enjoy seeing lists of places, so here you go: City, country, plains, ocean floor, that bench by the sell-your-plasma lab.) I most definitely cannot afford to purchase an airline ticket to anywhere on the spur of the moment “just cuz,” unless that ticket was to, like, Bakersfield, and who the hell wants to go there at all, let alone pay for the displeasure? I have only one layer to my personality. I WILL NEVER OPEN TO ANYONE MY HEART IS DEAD INSIDE.
Hi Ken –
DON’T WORRY ABOUT WASTING MY TIME, I DO A GREAT JOB OF THAT ALL ON MY OWN. 🙂 Deal breakers: People who can’t punctuate or spell properly, Labradoodle owners (Labradoodle is a ridiculous word, right? Fuck those dogs!! Figuratively, I mean, obviously.) (j/k – I love dogs, all of them.) POT IS A DRUG?!?!!?!? Fucking hell, thank goodness you were here to elucidate me on that one. Phew. I am lighting all of my weed on fire (though I admit it will be in very small amounts at one time.) I am very kind, and I am also active – just now, I, in fact, walked downstairs to the mailbox. I mean… I used the elevator, but there was movement involved both before and after that. Being transparent must be rather difficult! Due to your disability, I assume I can’t see you in your photo above, and that you are in between the two guys on the left. Have you ever thought about wearing clothes so you could be seen by other people? Just a thought. You do you! I’m totally not trying to smother or change you right now, ha ha ha. You’re still using “I’m” when listing things like “outdoors” (I am indoors myself,) “live music” (maybe this explains why you are transparent – you are music, not a person?) and so on. You’re touching 6′ of what? That sounds a little risque. I can totally solve the math problem at the end!!! If you just need one, subtract 2 from 3, and there you! Magic! Lastly, I notice you mention “fit” in your description. I still fit into most of my clothes – does that count? OK THANKS HAVE A NICE DAY.
After pummeling my self-esteem into the ground, the next day they began to show me people of a slightly different caliber: Those covered in prison tatts. Seriously, teardrops, the whole nine yards. Everyone makes mistakes, and being a felon doesn’t necessarily immediately disqualify someone, but we went from literal millionaires to felons in a heartbeat.
My friends encouraged me to “just get out there!” so I sent a few half-hearted introductions, and holy shit… well, I’ll just let you see for yourselves here in a moment.
On the plus side, just as I was getting ready to give up, I met Someone Kind of Awesome. Pretty cool. We went out the next day (which was last night,) and had a great time. We’re having dinner tonight, too. So, thank you, Bumble, after all. You rocked it just as I was about to bid you adieu, at least I got a friend out of it.
Without further ado, behold – I’m probably going to keep the app around purely for the comedic value. I’ll start you out with the whinging I did on Facebook, and select helpful answers:
Some actual conversations with people I matched with largely no hope of having anything in common – this is where the penis thing comes into play:
This one… this one realllllllly made me question what the hell I was doing on the app:
No, wait! David! Come back! I llllllllooooooovvvvvve youuuuuuuuuuuuu – I take it all back, Baby! How could I possibly resist your charms?!?!?!
This poor guy had the app cut him off at a truly unfortunate place, and his prize is winning the title of this blog post:
I sent him a quick note letting him know he might want to proofread his profile.
I don’t even know what to say about this one:
I know what his bangs look like UP CLOSE.
He’s either terribly honest or a halfway-decent troll
Well. I mean… yeah.
Bumble can be used to meet same-sex partners, too. I picked both genders, even though the likelihood of meeting an interesting girl would be far lower than a dude. Of the approximately 1839 women the app showed me, exactly 3 were interested in women. The rest apparently tapped the wrong button. They were nearly all, however, astonishingly beautiful, incredibly successful, and generally superior to me in every quantifiable way. Whee!
Bumble can also be used to meet…. clowns.
Some people do a fairly decent job of self-description, and then go one bridge too far:
It’s not easy for the dudes, either, I’m sure. More than a few said things like, “I’m X’Y” tall, because apparently that matters a lot here,” and some seem to have just Given Up Entirely:
I did actually read that, but I’m honestly more alarmed by your apparent state of entanglement with what I can only assume is some sort of human fishing rig. Do you require assistance? Please send exact geographic coordinates, approximate speed, heading, bearing, and color of attire, and I’ll see what I can do to help.
WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING TO THAT POOR ALIEN DOG?!?! You are squeezing her so hard with your … anaconda arms… that she’s about to explode, eyes-first. Stop it. Also, RE: This photo:
I am really sorry you got kicked in the nuts so hard, or that you see someone eating the sandwich you left in the fridge for lunch.
Nurse Cody –
Fucking hell, you can sure jump high. Not to brag, but I, myself, can jump almost three full inches into the air, unaided. So, did you ever find your way out of the desert?
Some images defy explanation. Others can be explained by the next image in the series:
Dear Marty –
The hell are you doing to that tiny car? Oh – you are going to crush it into the ball we see in the next photo. Got it.
Like many other men here in Bumble World, you seem to have an interest in fitness and…. WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS, MARTY?!!?
Marty, I don’t even know what to say anymore. I was just starting to feel safe with you, despite your car-crushing robot arms, and then you go and pull this shit? Don’t get me wrong – I, too, watched “Magnum, PI” a thousand years ago. HOWEVER. I do not recall Tom Selleck running around in junk-hugging … Speedo… short… things. I’m not sure I can get past this, even though things were going so well between us (well, between your previous photos and me, I should say.) Is there anything you can say in your defense?
Dawwwwwwww. Marty, I’ve never seen this side of you! You’re so fucking sweet, despite your egregious random apostrophe for no reason. Wait, though – you’re a bloody attorney and you can’t figure out an apostrophe? What kind of law do you practice, anyhow? And who are you to make demands on me already, like “court your significant other?” I don’t even know who she is – would I like her? You know me so well, Marty… I mean, there was the whole Porn ‘Stash Selleck Thing awhile ago, but we’re past that, right? This is a whole photo later – entire seconds have passed now. Ohhh no…. country music. And here I was already planning a surprise grammar class for you to improve your skills and to therefore be a more suitable mate for me. Goodbye forever, Marty – it just was never meant to be. Shhh now, no tears.
Hi Michael –
We are so ill-matched, but I just wanted to warn you that your shirt seems to have begun annexing the table next to you. Watch out – who knows where it will strike next.
WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU POINTING AT, DAVE, 52?! Do you realize we, your audience, cannot see it? Oh wait, is this some kind of bad Saturday Night Fever parody?
Please don’t take this the wrong way, but that photo is fucking terrible. I mean, unless you are really proud of auditioning for the voice of Phlegm in an upcoming Nyquil commercial, you really might want to pick something else here. You’re 63, man – time could be short.
I KNOW, RIGHT?!?!?
Lastly, I leave you with… um…Robert.
I am having tremendous difficulty reconciling these two images. You are either the second coming of George Peppard or you are in talks to act/direct/write/exec-produce/produce “Sheldon! The Retirement Years.” We get it, you’re versatile! Either way, I’m not sure if you realize this, but Bumble isn’t a place to get acting gigs.
I feel like this guy hit “match” accidentally on my profile. Call me utterly shallow and judgmental about appearances, but I can’t imagine ever being comfortable in his presence with my lumpy self, even though he said, “good things come in all shapes and colors, right?” You look nice, Scott – best of luck to you, bud. And can we just talk for a minute about your fucking obliques? SHIT, SON.
So, I have once again discovered that online dating is fatiguing. Exhausting. Depressing. Horrible in every conceivable way.
I am spent.
And yet… I did find someone who was really cool, and we met a few times:
“I just kept swiping until I found the nerd girl!”
But, at the end of the day, I had to say “fuck this” all over again. I just … I can’t do online dating. Nope. Not for me.
“Do you really need more than one?” is a question commonly asked by non-riders. N + 1, baby; N + 1.
I have dated many men and women over the decades, and I’ve run the gamut of good relationships and bad. Of the <cough><insert number here> people who have been in that mix, vanishingly few of them have ridden motorcycles – which is simultaneously a tragedy and a blessing in disguise.
On the “blessing” side, having partners who don’t ride guarantees me a certain measure of Alone Time, no matter what. I’m an only child (“ooohhh,” people always say, nodding; “that explains a lot,”) and I needs mah Space. My soul gets restless and itchy if subjected to people non-stop for a long period of time.
On the tragedy side, if someone doesn’t know that irresistible beckoning of two wheels, hasn’t ever experienced the promise of a full, cold tank of gasoline pressing against their thighs, hasn’t ever had to dodge an errant cage driver, hasn’t ever downshifted and rolled on through a big, long, smooth sweeper… can we really connect? Yeah, of course we can… but there’s always going to be that impassable gulf between us. Stopping and taking a break on a particularly breathtaking ride and being able to share the view and the whole damn experience with someone I care about is superb. I miss that.
Non-riders look at motorcycles and see Machines; we look at them and see beautiful, endless possibilities. Miles of ’em.
Fuck yes, I want this between my legs more than most things most of the time. This is apparently difficult to understand. No, it has nothing to do with vibration.
Too, I don’t just ride – a ride a lot. It is, after all, the biggest reason why I moved to San Diego. It’s November 26th, and I just got home from a spectacular five-hour ride that was only a little chilly at the beginning of the morning. My poor Michigan friends, as well as our other northern bretheren, are stuck making vroom-vroom noises in their garages for another 5ish more months.
Time and time again, so many of the married riders I know (men and women alike) who don’t have a spouse who enjoys riding lament their misfortune. They speak of “kitchen passes” and sometimes have “curfews” and limitations on how many days per week they’re “allowed” to ride. Others are more fortunate and have understanding, gracious partners who happily allow them the time they need to bond with their machines and riding buddies, which makes the time they choose to spend together all the more fantastic. I love seeing my friends happy in their relationships – it’s such a refreshing change of pace from the all too common bitching and moaning about a less-than-perfect marriage.
My ex-husband just didn’t get it, and over the brief six years we were together, the more time I spent on the road, the more he came to resent my most treasured hobby. When I bought a Harley in 2012 (sssshhh, we’re all friends here, no judging,) he was so furious… he called his mom to tell on me. Oh gosh – Stuff just got real. He was a great guy, make no mistake, but our compatibility fell well short of where it should have been in a number of areas. Eventually, I had to flee to save both of our sanities.
Now, having uprooted myself and relocated cross-country for the third time, I am faced with a dilemma – Am I willing to compromise on this key area again? The bigger part of me says “of course!” but there is a nay-sayer in the back of my head, clucking her tongue and inhaling through her teeth if someone isn’t a rider. “I dunno,” she says, skepticism virtually dripping off her words, “is s/he going to start getting shitty when I do overnight trips with other people? What about when both weekend mornings are consumed by club rides? Are we willing to sacrifice that?”
Sure, if I’m head-over-heels in love, I’ll compromise, but “head-over-heels” seldom happens. I am a seeker by nature, and it takes a lot to get me in it to win it. Once In It, however, I’m 100% there as long as everyone’s happy.
Cue the inner pragmatist, who seldom sees the light of day: There are a lot of damn pitfalls in any potential match – politics, monogamy versus poly, incompatible schedules, lack of geographic proximity, hatred of something important to the other… should I really narrow my field by another order of magnitude?
Sure, I could drive up here… but it’s soooo much more fun to ride.
Thus far out here, every rider I’ve taken a liking to has already been snapped up by some other lucky human, and I have painfully learned my lesson about keeping my hand out of that particular cookie jar. Granted, there are a lot of good things about being single – a whole lot. I am beholden to no one, I set my own schedule without fear of reprisals, I don’t have to check in. “Is there money in the bank? Yes? Sweet, let’s go!” “Do I feel like just not coming home tonight? Fuck it, I’m staying in Borrego Springs until morning.”
Of course, there’s the distinct lack of sex, which is problematic. But these are the choices I make. For now. <twitch>
Meeting people is a bit tricky when online dating doesn’t work for me. I need to meet someone organically through a common thing – motorcycles, for example, would be great. Or shooting pool. Or snorkeling. Shooting. Photography. Or whatever thing we have in common that provides a foundation to build upon other than, “Hey, so I hear you’re looking for someone to date, too!” <awkward laugh> OKCupid is a fucking nightmare. Tinder? Ick.
It would be fun to have someone to Do Stuff with (it’s difficult to talk random friends into cage diving with Great White Sharks to the tune of $3000,) but at what expense? As with all things, I need to relax and just let time play its track out. I’ve sort of settled into being single for the rest of my life at this point – I’m 47; my dating pool is shrinking by the nanosecond. The last several people I’ve dated have been in their twenties, but obviously, while super fun, those sorts of gigs aren’t going to be terribly long-term due to the sheer magnitude of experience differentials. At this point, I’m seeking a grown-ass person who has their shit together, who, for one reason or another, is single. Oh, and who would find me remotely interesting. Where they at?
Alright, enough bemoaning the woeful state of my non-existent love life, y’all. I am so exceptionally fortunate in damn near every other area, I think I can be cool missing out on this. Right? Right.