Nanoseconds to Eternity

Instinct is a funny, crazy thing. I had a friend who was about ready to strangle me for a minute on a hike in the Cascades many years ago when we crested a small ridge and I came to a slow but certain halt.

“Wait,” I said.
“What?” he asked, looking around.
“I saw something.”
What?!
<long pause>
“I don’t know yet.”
He blinked and started to say something, but I held up a finger.

It took me a good 15 or 20 seconds to suss it out, carefully examining everything in front of us. As it happened, what I saw was a bear about 50 yards ahead, upwind, in light scrub cover. Some reptilian part of my brain that wasn’t fully connected to my consciousness managed to send up a flare to get my constantly wandering attention and saved us the trouble of careening headlong into her. Of course, I’m pretty sure she would’ve skedaddled long before we actually got too close, but with bears it’s a good idea to be cautious.

Similarly, we all know when something isn’t quite right with our bikes – even if we can’t articulate what that might be. Something feels “off.” Pay heed, friends: Your gut is trying to tell you something, and with two tiny rubber contact patches keeping you upright at speed, it warrants listening to that niggling feeling. Such an occasion arose today on our Saturday group ride.

It’s December 2nd, my first December in San Diego, and I am absolutely basking in the glory of not having to winterize my bikes. For those of you baffled by what that might mean, “winterizing” is the act of draining the fuel (or stabilizing it,) hooking the bike up to a battery tender, and (ideally) getting the tires up off the ground. There, the bike will remain inert for the next four to six months while the weather plays cruel tricks on those unfortunate enough to reside in chillier climes.

I know, right? Madness.

During those dark, somber months, Northern riders are afflicted with PMS – Parked Motorcycle Syndrome. We.. rather, they… watch YouTube videos, “Long Way Round,” and whine. A lot.

But I digress. Here in glorious San Diego, the sun continues to bathe us in warmth and delight, and temperatures make even the southern routes not only bearable but sublime. Today was just such a day.

Most of the group took off after The Chairs to help a club member move, but those of us unhelpful slackers who carried on blasted down Wynola and Sunrise Highway, then stopped for lunch at an ice cream shack nearby. There, we ran into new club member “My Bike Blew Over at Borrego” Eric and had a nice, relaxed meal. I promise I did not kick his bike over, you jerks.

Post-lunch, Scott D. led us through some of the most gorgeous sweepers and hills I’ve thus far seen (every new road is a favorite for me) at what I assume was, for him, an incredibly relaxed pace, because the only way I could have a chance in hell of keeping up with Scott is if I shackled him to a Road King.

Towing a trailer.

With one eye covered.

At any rate, I did not even look at my speedo, and just focused on keeping lines and so forth. On Lyon Valley Road, not too far past the little shop where we often stop for breaks, there’s a pretty sharp left-hand corner. As I slowed a bit, thinking about the upcoming lean/roll-on, my reptilian self said, “oh, shit.” Taken aback and totally uncertain what had caught my eye, I rolled off and gently applied some brakes. My back tire immediately began fishtailing, and, while my memory might be playing tricks on me, it seemed like the front got a little squirrely, too. [expletive]

Welp, time’s up – It was either turn or go through the guard rail, so I gingerly eased the bike through the turn, everything feeling loose and horrible the whole time. While it was assuredly only about a half-second for which I was at risk of launching myself over the cliff, I must have said “don’t look at it don’t look at it don’t look at it look where you want to go look where you want to go” a thousand times in three nanoseconds, which stretched into an eternity.

For those however many split-seconds, the bike was fishtailing like a son of a bitch, something she Does Not Do, Ever. The FZ1 is a solid bike, and she loves fast curves. The Pilot Road 4’s have served me incredibly well, and continue to do so: Something was definitely Not Right. Experimenting with gentle braking while my cohorts vanished in the distance, I realized there was something most definitely amiss – hell if I knew what.

There was a small amount of loose gravel in the center of the lane, but the two sides seemed free of any debris. The behavior exhibited itself regardless of the gravel. Slowing, way, way down for the right-hander ahead, I damn near bit the dust again as the rear end tried to wash out beneath me. “WHAT THE EFF,” I yelled into my helmet, heart in my throat, resisting the overpowering urge to stiffen up and clench the grips. The next left-hander was worse. I envisioned myself hurtling over the edge to my demise, and thought for a moment that would actually be a pretty cool way to go – provided I was guaranteed a swift death at the bottom, and not some tormented, vegetative state: I’m not afraid of death, but mercy, save me from Lingering.

I had to stop to see if I’d gotten a flat or worse. A pullout presented itself, and, fortunately, it was “just” a nasty streak of something wildly slippery coating both tires – maybe oil, maybe diesel, maybe ATF, who knows, but the end result was the same: Bad Shit was present. I hoped my colleagues wouldn’t be so worried as to turn around and come back for me, even though it had only been a few minutes – I’m a fairly new member to the club, and hadn’t ridden with this particular set of dudes terribly often.

Wiping off what I could with the cuff of my glove, I got back on and rode, very sedately, for a time, trying to wear off whatever crud was trying to ruin my day. After a couple of miles, I began leaning slightly more and more with every turn, until finally everything seemed more or less back together. Not perfect, not the rock-solid normal, but “ok.”

Then, I rode like hell to catch up, still taking it pretty easy in the curves. Thankfully, that amazing four-cylinder puts out enough power to make up time in the straights, and the group had likely slowed a bit; maybe five or seven miles down the road, there they were.

Some of you might know that awful feeling following such an event – every tiny dip or bump or change in surface texture makes me wonder if something else is going wrong with the bike. It turns into this cascading vortex of doubt that steals my focus and pretty much kills the joy of the ride. Fortunately, we were winding up and it was mostly in-town roads and freeway for the rest of the way home.

Once safely parked in the underground structure (man, do I miss having a proper garage!) I checked everything over and found the substance had worn almost entirely away – a few dark spots on the far edges of the rubber were the only evidence (ok, those, and my elevated blood pressure.)

We’re creatures with 4280 million years of evolution behind us – instincts and reflexes we aren’t even aware of are all there, serving their functions. Our eyes blink before we  feel the mote of dust brush past our eyelashes; our brains and bodies are processing a metric honkload of information every single moment, and we only fully experience a fraction of it all. The rest usually slips past unnoticed and unannounced, but I tell you what – when that primal portion tries to tell us something, boy howdy, we need to pay attention.

While nine times out of ten it might be a false alarm (Google “cats afraid of cucumbers video” for examples – https://youtu.be/pXv44YL_Gio?t=14s ) that other time might be something truly dire. Whether my subconscious recognized an almost-invisible oil patch or some other tiny detail my consciousness had overlooked, that added moment of caution before I would have actually hit the turn at speed probably saved me. Phew. I’ll have to save my need for plummeting headlong toward the ground for my next skydive.

Whether it was the heightened emotion from all of that or whether it was something else, about 15 minutes later I found myself breaking one of my cardinal rules: Never give a cage driver the finger. EVER. There are two reasons for this:

  1. I try to be a good motorcycle ambassador as much as I can be. Flipping people off serves no purpose and just makes me look like an asshole. Better to let the other asshole do whatever assholey thing he was doing and ignore him.

  2. I never know who the first person to arrive at the scene of my accident is going to be. Do I want it to be someone I just flipped off? Nope.

Regardless, a green Kia driver wouldn’t let us pass him, so we passed one by one on a reasonably safe stretch of double-yellow. As Dave rode by, the driver stuck his hand out the window and invited him to go eff himself, then held that invitation aloft for me. As I passed, before I even realized what I was doing, my own left hand lifted up and offered the same salute in kind. BAD RIDER!! BAD!!!

I should have just left him and his flipped bird hanging impotently in the breeze, but no – my dander and my hackles were already up. Shit. Note to self: Stop it.

Tomorrow is the BMW Owners of San Diego holiday party, so no morning ride for me. This is probably just as well; I need to put myself in the penalty box for a minute for that lapse of poise.  While I am not much of a Holiday Person, I do sometimes enjoy getting gussied up and hanging out with my friends; I’m very much looking forward to it!

Motorcycles, Politics, Camping, Sex, Compassion, and Bees

Part One: Bees

Some days we never want to end, others cannot expire soon enough. This past weekend held a little of both, though the good certainly outweighed the bad and the ugly.

As one might surmise from the title, this is going to be a long one, folks, and we’re going to cover a lot of ground (badly, and without much in the way of Organization, might I add.)

Let’s start with the bees, because they’re important, they’re dying all around us, and three of them had important cameos this week. Wait, lies – Let’s start with this weekend’s plans, because they factor into everything.

On Tuesday, I decided to tag along on a group motorcycle camping trip to the Salton Sea from Friday through Sunday. I’d not done motorcycle camping since 1996, and what better way to get back into the swing of things than with a gaggle of other like-minded folks?

Ok, now the bees.

That morning, I had found a very sickly looking bee on my patio furniture. I see dozens of dead bees around my apartment complex, which is always a sad thing. I have to assume there is some kind of pesticide they’re using which is killing them off in tragic droves, one by one, dozen by dozen.  I find them lying on the sidewalk every day. I don’t know what sort of bees they are, or whether they are solitary, but I do know we need every last one of them that’s left on this Earth.

“To understand many things you must reach out of your own condition.”
~Mary Oliver

Thus, when I saw the wee girl on my chaise lounge, I didn’t have much hope of her being alive. I gently blew across her wings, and she reared up into a groggy but distinctly defensive position: Middle legs and stinger raised, wings outstretched, facing this new unknown threat. Immediately after assuming this posture, she lost balance and tumbled onto her side. Oh, dear. Poison? Cold? I have no idea how to distinguish a poisoned bee from one that is simply too cold. I watched her for a few seconds as her legs clumsily churned in slow motion, trying to get her upright.

I can’t stand to see animals suffer; it causes me anguish in a deep, sensitive, delicate area. My first instinct was that she was dying, and that I should end her suffering. That’s such a final solution, though – I wanted to give her the chance to survive. Hoping she was cold and that I could warm her up, I placed my index finger alongside her body so the heat would radiate out to her. She immediately perked up and began scrabbling toward me – not in an aggressive manner, but in a keenly interested one: Her antennae and front legs reached forward ambitiously, her abdomen and stinger remained relaxed.

As quickly as she could, she climbed up onto my finger, legs frequently missing their steps and wobbling with every one, but she got there and then she sat quite still – only her antennae moved, daintily touching my skin, perhaps trying to figure out what I was, whether I was food, or just a heat source.

“This is quite an exercise in trust for us both, isn’t it?” I murmured.

I waited. After perhaps two minutes, her movements became more regular and coordinated, and after a minute more, she adroitly took to the sky where I hope she will live out a normal, healthy bee life. Thursday, the spectacle repeated itself as I found a similarly beleagured bee clinging to the wall near my elevator. She took much longer to come around, but eventually she, too, flew off into the sun. I videod that one, which is probably only of interest to me (and maybe Steven and Leslie:)

I hope this is amongst the right things to do, and isn’t causing them harm or more stress that will lead to terrible things. Thinking back to both of these times makes me feel happy: Altruism serves the self, too.

Flash-forward to Saturday night around a campfire burning in a large metal pit. A pale, half-inch-long spider ran in circles for over an hour along the rim of the pit, sometimes stopping to inquisitively check out its surroundings, but mostly just running around the rim fairly quickly. For awhile, no one else seemed to notice it, then Chuck pointed it out. We wondered why the circles – if it was too hot, why didn’t it simply hop off the edge into the cool darkness? Around and around and around, sometimes at what seemed like its top speed. Others began to notice it and watched.

I was worried someone was going to knock it into the flames – people are so often mindlessly cruel to tiny beings, particularly when we find them distasteful – but as far as I know, nobody did. I watched them watching it, trying to figure out what everyone, arachnid and human, was thinking. Naturally, I’ll never know. At some point, I looked for it, and it was gone – I hope off into the night to hunt some bugs, and not into the flames to briefly wither and then die. I was heartened, though, that at least for a half hour or 45 minutes, the humans elected to let it live. This brings us to:

Part Two: Compassion

We are strong when we show the smallest of beings compassion. Humans, lacking any real predators (though I do hold out hope for the bacteria and viruses to rein us in, perhaps soon,) might think we have little to lose or to gain by stepping on a spider or by putting it outside, unharmed. I posit we have everything to gain through compassion. The simple act of choosing kindness over cruelty or even over neglect actually changes our brain chemistry and our bodies. For the better. You can read a summary of one such study right here: Compassion Meditation. Scientific article here: Compassion Training Alters Altruism and Neural Responses to Suffering

Beyond quantifiable results, though, lie the more immediate, personal, less tangible ones: We feel good when we do good.  Some might feel a sort of smug satisfaction when squishing an insect, but is it really a good feeling? Perhaps for some. If you’re someone who likes the idea of Power and Control, what greater satisfaction is there than to have the ability to decide whether something lives or dies? In the grand scheme of things, one spider, one bee, is meaningless to most of us – but it’s pretty fucking important to the spider and to the bee.

Let’s flip this around for those amongst us who aren’t of a mindset to live and let live. Let’s think for a moment about wild dolphins – these are powerful, intelligent animals, capable of quickly, easily, and efficiently killing humans in the water. Seldom does anything ever go wrong when people dive with them, though. Sure, there is the odd, misguided attempt at coupling, or a “rogue” habituated dolphin getting cranky, but most dolphin “attacks” get no worse than this – spoilers, no actual attack occurs, just enjoy:

They could kill us, but they choose not to. There’s a lot of power in that. Wild-animal-related human fatalities typically happen under circumstances that are usually the fault of either that particular person (getting selfies with wildlife, trying to pet or feed wildlife, provoking wildlife, et cetera,) or of People in General (areas where wildlife is often fed, encroaching onto territories, et cetera.)

Predators other than humans don’t tend to attack without cause – the stakes are too high, even for the apex predators (wolves, sharks, bears, et al.) They forever live in a PVP, very permadeath world (non-gamers, click the links to learn the lingo.)

All of us have the physical ability to intentionally harm or kill lesser beings should we so choose. There have been (thankfully rare) times in my past when I was needlessly cruel that to this day cause me the greatest shame I have ever felt. I don’t know why I did the things I did, and I wish more than anything I could go back and not do them. Instead, I have to live with those memories as a reminder of what I was capable of when my worst self took over and beg the forgiveness of a vast universe.

That Ian Malcolm quote, though: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”  We all know how that ended up, don’t we: Velociraptors. Right? Right. The next time you see a spider or an ant that is not especially in your way, choose to let it live and see how that sits with you. I hope it takes, not only to benefit those critters who might otherwise be harmed, but also to benefit you, yourself – walk into the warm light, man; it’s really nice here. For all of us. I promise you won’t be any less of a badass by being kind – in fact, your level of badassitude will increase immensely because you could choose pain or death, and you instead chose kindness and life. That? That is the ultimate in strength.

I have digressed, per usual. My point: Be compassionate, because you can afford to be. It costs nothing to extend kindness, and I suspect that even the most calloused, blackened heart can be warmed through its practice.

Let’s get off this particular soapbox and move on: Part Three: Motorcycles (coming soon…) 

Internalized Misogyny

It wasn’t until Wonder Woman came out that I fully understood how deeply I had been missing legitimate female badass characters on that scale and of that quality. We’ve all been aware of the very few roles that have heretofore fallen into that category because most of the scripts with those types of women also had men that did one of a few things:

1.) Bailed them out when they got in over their heads;
2.) Resented their power and were assholes about it;
3.) Betrayed them and caused them to question everything, ultimately finding the real meaning of love with another man;
4.) Et cetera.

In terms of the writing for the women characters themselves, the badass women were often bitches, hardasses, man-haters, childless, incapable of love, commitment, or relationships, or were just utterly cliche. There were precious, precious few otherwise “normal,” functioning human beings.

Years and years ago, I wrote a blog post about my favorite female characters in media. It begins by saying, “I may not be remembering correctly, but when I was growing up, I don’t recall many totally independent, strong female role models in television.” I want to reach back in time to my thirty-year-old self and pinch her cheeks. “Oh sweetheart,” I would say, “you’re remembering just fine.”

What brings this to mind is watching “Continuum” on Netflix. I’m only a few episodes in, but right from the first minutes of the show, I was struck by the complete normalcy of the lead character’s life outside of her badassedness. She is happily married with a child. Her husband just grins when she beats up a punk on the train and doesn’t try to stop her or back her up in any way – he knows she’s got this and he loves her for it. He just grins and lets her do her thing.

There are other shows now which have similarities: “Game of Thrones,” “Once Upon A Time,” and so forth, and they make me super, super happy. Farther back, “Buffy” did a pretty good job, too. Xena? Ehhh, not so much, really.  “Firefly,” definitely.

This gives not only women something to reinforce what being a strong woman can mean, but it also helps men who might not understand that accepting and embracing a woman’s skill and strength is possible – it doesn’t have to be threatening. Some men of course just know this, but as a society, we do not – men and women alike, generally, don’t understand what’s possible because we have been told these stories since birth.

The media has done its damage to both genders, and part of what it’s done to men is to train them to be misogynistic in many ways, both large and small. Much like how racism is so ingrained in this culture, some of us with the best intentions and mindsets might have these things we feel or think and believe to be true that are only figments of what we’ve been told about race. It’s work to overcome, and such important work at that.

I think it probably takes a lot of mindfulness to be a good man in this world when it comes to women. Everything screams at them to behave in these certain masculine ways to their detriment and to women’s. They’re taught to believe that what I guess I think of as the “frat boy mentality” is the way things should be. Women are taught to believe this, too (myself definitely included,) and that steals away from us. Speaking from a heteronormative perspective here, we’re taught an entirely skewed meaning of sex: It’s the male’s job to convince us to “let them” have sex with us, and it’s our job to deny that unless it’s some kind of reward. We’re taught that denying sex to our partners for any reason will lead to smoldering resentment that will force him into the arms of another woman. “Isn’t it easier to just give in than to worry?”

Louis CK, for all his flaws, is one of my favorite comedians; I think he’s one of the most genuinely funny people alive today. I love watching his shows. In my most favorite of his shows, “Live at the Beacon Theater,” he does a bit on Pussy. You can see it in full here, with an introduction about how hormones make men stupid. The Pussy Bit begins at about 1:45 in. That’s the mentality. About four minutes in, he offers some redeeming thoughts about women having just as much sex drive.

Anyway.

This Saturday morning, I attended the breakfast before our BMW club’s group ride. Typically, breakfast is from 8am until about 9am, and then we ride. Today, things were not wrapping up on time. I found myself wanting to say, “You guys are worse than a bunch of women, let’s GOOOOOOOO,” and realized “… wow. That old saying actually has some important shit behind it that I never really thought about.”

In years past, I thought could utter that phrase “without harm” because I’m a woman – typically the only one present – and it should be funny and perhaps shame the men a bit into action. It must be obvious I don’t really believe all women have this problem, I know better, right?

Wow. There’s so much wrong with that, and I never saw the full scope of it until that day.

First, there’s the obvious dig at women in general because we (I first wrote, “they”) can’t contain their talking to get anything done. Next, there’s a woman saying it, reinforcing that notion. Last big one, it’s implying that men should feel ashamed to be compared to women. How the fucking hell was I so obtuse as to miss these points? Crossed that off my list of go-to phrases.

At the midpoint of the ride, there were four of us left in the group. Two of the men took off their helmets and immediately began combing their hair. Before I could think, “Look at you two, doing up your hair. Worse than women!” spewed out of my mouth and flopped onto the pavement like a dead animal. Everyone had a chuckle, but inside I was filled with shame.

Oh my fucking hells.

I know I’ve said these things countless times in the past; it’s an old habit. Old, stupid, wrongheaded habit (as habits often are.) I had made some similar comment in a group forum probably 20 years ago and another female member said, “wow, internalized misogyny much?” I scoffed, offended. This bitch doesn’t know me, she has no idea. I am, quite clearly, certainly far too self-aware to even entertain the idea of buying into that sort of misogyny. I’m being ironic, I convinced myself. This was before the term “ironic” was obliterated by millennials, mind you, and actually meant “ironic.”

Clearly, this must stop. I can soooooo easily see nuances of racism, but sexism is apparently an enormous blind spot for me – because a large part of me bought into it part and parcel. Some incorrect beliefs about myself, sure, but a huge number of absolutely 100% wrong notions about the entire swath of the female sex.

At my going-away party back in August, I was showing people how to play AudioShield in VR and likened it being like Wonder Woman fending off blows. I asked one of my favorite male friends, “do you want to feel like Wonder Woman,” in a mostly-joking kind of way, with overtones of sarcasm. Without missing a beat, he said, “Hell yes, I do!” and jumped in. Because Nathan is awesome and he knows it would be super fucking cool to be Wonder Woman. [EDIT: After reading this, my longtime friend Alex sent me the following fantastic link: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/halloween-gender-non-conforming-kids_us_59f7712ce4b09b5c25682078?ncid=inblnkushpmg00000009 ]

There are so damned many blind spots, so many nooks and crannies that have been saturated with bullshit for so long, they don’t even recognize it anymore. In March of 2016, I underwent The Great Girly Transformation of eDar: I spontaneously fell in love with clothes and shoes and make-up for no reason I could think of.

This sent me into a tailspinner of an identity crisis, man – a whole bunch of Who I Was had heretofore been tied up in jeans, t-shirts, and engineer boots. Motorcycles. Guns.  Cars. Planes. You know – Guy Shit. <sigh>

Part of me wonders if it’s because I’m a large person, and I perhaps subconsciously gave up on ever being the “perfect” vision of femininity, so I violently and completely rejected all the trappings of it. Maybe I saw the roles and stereotypes and couldn’t figure out how to reconcile those with who I was and wanted to be, and wasn’t bright enough to realize I could blaze my own feminine path. I dunno.

Recently, the universe has, through various means, dictated I now have two pink riding jackets. I’ve come to accept them, despite being wildly uncomfortable at first. I have violently hated pink for most of my life because it is girly. Far too girly for a non-girly girl such as myself, right? I wanted nothing to do with it. (“Internalized misogyny much?”)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Indeed, I’ve started actually embracing these pink jackets, and even bought matching pink gloves the other day because fuck yeah I can wear pink and still be a badass. I don’t have to try to disguise myself as Not A Girl – that’s silliness and insanity.

Yesterday, riding home from the club’s Sunday morning excursion, I stopped at a light near my home. I looked to my left and saw a little girl’s face pressed up against the car window, eyes wide, mouth literally agape. She was quite young – maybe six or seven, and she rolled down the window, but didn’t say anything; she just stared, eyebrows up as high as they would go. I grinned and waved at her. She giggled and waved back before hiding under the window. Her very young dad grinned, too.

This happens from time to time – young kids noticing a girl on a motorcycle and just going bonkers with surprise (usually followed by delight.) If I can inspire a few kidlets to shed stereotypes and be awesome? I’m very, very happy with that idea.

When I first starting creating website content for myself circa 1994 (before “blogging” was a word,) my main objective, my mission, was to connect with people and to put myself out there – warts and all – in the hopes of helping other people feel “ok.” Life is not television-show neat. Life is messy and complicated and human beings even more so. Some of my friends at the time objected, thought I was going too far, “showing my ass in public,” as it were, and they were in some cases absolutely right: There is such a thing as TMI sometimes. By and large, though? No regrets. I’ve met some of my closest friends from writing things on the internet.

With the advent of Mommy Blogs, that 1950’s Perfect Housewife mentality began making a resurgence, but a funny thing happened ten or so years after Mommy Blogging became a super lucrative venture: The mommy bloggers who wrote about imperfection, rather than having everything together, started to take off even more than those who portrayed their lives as neat and tidy. People who put their struggles and failures up got more traffic, and more loyal return traffic, than many of their “perfect” competitors. I have no hard data to back this up, mind you – I have over 10 years in the web hosting industry, and my source is purely anecdotal experience.

So, fellow humans, don’t hide, don’t buy into the shame, don’t isolate yourselves out of fear or anxiety. Connect and support and love and indulge and communicate with each other, warts and all. Steal the stigma away from those powerful talismans (mental illness, “embarrassing” health issues, feeling scared or small or like an imposter,) and talk to someone about them. If you don’t have someone in your life you feel won’t judge you, seek the anonymity of the internet (mind the trolls, obviously, but there really are Actual Safe Spaces for just about everything and everyone out there – moderated, supportive places.)

Having, as usually, strayed quite far from my original point, I’ll leave you with this: If anyone would be inclined to talk to me about anything at all, my ears and my heart are always open. I have made so very many bad decisions in my life, I’ve done so many things I regret and am ashamed of, I don’t judge. I can’t – I know what it’s like to be imperfect – it’s my every waking moment. If I seem like I have stuff together, that is an illusion: The Swan Defense – Serene on the surface, paddling like fucking crazy below. You can talk to me if you want. Anytime. <3

Saddle Sore

June 24, 2012

As more and more of my friends have gotten into motorcycling, several of them have expressed an interest in completing a Saddle Sore 1000, which is riding 1000 documented miles or more with a 24 hour time period. While this is far short of impossible, it is very physically and mentally grueling and, if enough things go not quite as planned, can be stressful. I haven’t completed a documented Saddle Sore in over 10 years, and I have a new Harley I wanted to try it on, so I scheduled a group event for the Summer Solstice weekend in 2012.

In the end, only three of us were able to attempt the ride, as scheduling conflicts waxed, and interest in the ride waned. We set an early start time – 6:30am at the BP station in Mason, Michigan.

The temperatures were in the 50’s when we started, so I was utterly Bundled Up in my Michelin Man gear, looking very Sta-Puft, indeed. I was extremely grateful for the full windshield on my Harley Super Glide Custom; I’ve never had a bike with this much windshield before, and was loving it. While I do still get some helmet vibration in my Shoei RF-1100 at freeway speeds, I was far less buffeted than I would have been on the Bandit. The one thorn in my side on this trip was the backpack I had to carry. While Jim graciously let me take up nearly all of his left saddlebag with my stuff, there was still about 10 pounds of water and other items in the backpack, and boy howdy did it ever wear on my shoulders for the duration of the trip.

I had a lot of trepidation about whether my back would hold up to this trip. Prior to installing the Sundowner solo saddle, each time I’d ridden the Harley (dubbed “Dahlia,”) the next morning I woke up with moderate to severe back strain in my lower back, sometimes to the point of not being able to move much at all. This trip would truly be a test as to how compatible this machine and I are. I was already in love with her – would this make or break our relationship?

As with many of these rides, it started out a bit late and a bit bumpy. It turns out there are two BP stations in Mason, and I had forgotten the second one, which was the most logical choice. Jim had arrived at the other and waited before seeking me out at The Wrong BP, only a couple of miles down the road. Together, we went back to The Logical BP, where Severin had arrived and was waiting.

Jim and I gassed up, which set our start/hard finish time at 6:42am. Severin was having some mirror troubles Jim tried to correct, but the thing was just buggered for this trip. Alas, poor Severin, who had nothing but a fine view of his right saddlebag in the mirror. At about 6:50, we were finally on the road with Jim taking the lead with his cruise-controlled Kawasaki touring rig. Severin had only gotten about 5 hours of sleep the night before, so we kept him sandwiched in the middle (his favorite spot, naturally,) to make sure he’d be ok and didn’t have to think much.

Jim is a great ride leader – he takes the group into consideration when making lane changes or when pulling out from a stop, he points out road hazards as he sees them, and exercises judicious throttle control on the freeway. He’s fun to follow, though we had agreed to take turns leading, since it can be mentally tasking to continually check up on everyone and think for the group. Personally, I make a pretty awful ride leader, and prefer to follow. I really enjoyed being able to watch both of them as we progressed.

Our first leg took us south on 127 to Jackson, where we hopped onto 94 west and headed for Michigan’s west coast. The miles peeled off easily, and before we knew it we were at our first gas stop in Coloma. Our first stop was pretty efficient, apart from having to locate and then obtain the key for the restroom. It had warmed up pretty well, and we were all feeling good. The sun was shining, and it was a gorgeous day.

The documentation rules for Iron Butt Association rides are rather strict, so people have a harder time faking rides. One of the requirements is to get a computer-generated, date-and-time-stamped receipt for each gas stop which also has the location on it, and then make a note of the bike’s odometer at the gas stops. Being out of practice, I had forgotten to check whether our first receipt actually had the location, date and time on it, but I did remember to get the receipt and write my odometer reading on it. Fortunately, we got lucky, and all of the required information was present.

We turned onto US-31 going North and began our Lake Michigan leg. Sadly, the lake is never visible from 31 until one hits Traverse City, but it’s a pretty efficient way to get north and enjoy some pretty scenery along the way. We had a minor detour where 196 and 31 parted company, but nothing that ate too much time. US-31 does pass through some cities and towns, and there are a few stop lights, but our pace was excellent. To complete a Saddle Sore 1000 within the 24 hour time period, one needs to have an average speed of 41.7mph. This includes stops for food, gas, bathroom breaks, everything, so time management is crucial.

A separate but related event this summer is a touring rally/scavenger hunt I put together for our little group, The Vogon Fleet. We rode past so many target locations, but couldn’t stop to get them. Neither could we just linger and enjoy the scenery, alas. The IBA is all about The Miles and Getting Them. Sit there, twist that, gas up, repeat.

In no time at all, we were in Ludington for our second gas stop. Our maximum range was about 140 miles on the freeway, limited by the smallest tank in the group. After this stop, we didn’t get near our max range most of the time, our stops rather dictated by how uncomfortable any given member of the group was.

At this point, I gave Jim a break from leading the group. He was starting to experience some significant pain in his tailbone, and had been leading us for about 4 hours. I took point, and immediately, like RIGHT NOW, lead us in the wrong direction. US-31 goes from a freeway to a surface street in Ludington, and I was trying to get us back on the freeway. Derp! Just a moment later, though, I realized the trouble and flipped us around.

I have a terrible time maintaining a consistent speed, and my Harley has no cruise control or throttle lock (yet.) When my little monkey brain gets distracted by something, I slow down. When I get impatient, I subconsciously go faster. Too, there are just certain speeds which the bike seems to enjoy, and settles into them gradually over time, whether faster or slower than my desire. On a two-lane road, such as US-31, this isn’t as big a deal as on the freeway.

We got stuck behind a gigantic motor home briefly as we started North again, but soon left him in the dust and carried on. Traffic was moving briskly, and we made great time to the Traverse City area. As we were coming into town, we rode right past the park where my family owns a campsite – I didn’t realize it until we were right on top of it. I haven’t seen that place in probably 15 years, so it was neat to be right there.

As we headed into Traverse City Itself, and down to the bay front, things became more congested. It was Saturday on a beautiful summer day, so there were naturally a LOT of people all around the bay. It took us a fair amount of time to travel through, and we gassed up shortly thereafter in Acme. I was able to shed my thermal, and even ditched my jeans, riding in just the LDComfort shorts under my First Gear Kilimanjaro pants. Note to me: Wear light, non-jean-type pants under the FGK stuff, ok? You know this, ya nublet. Bare skin against the knee armor is sticky and mildly unpleasant. I suppose I just needed that reminder. Still, I was far more comfortable without the extra bulk of my jeans, Cuddle Duds top, and FGK jacket thermal liner. Ahh.

At this point, we’d been on the road about 8 hours. I was feeling really fresh, and was enjoying not blasting this out entirely on the freeway. It was great to be able to go without earplugs on the two-lane roads without insane wind noise making me crazy and increasing my existing tinnitus. Jim, sadly, was not doing well – mentally, he was frosty and awesome, but his stock saddle was murdering his tailbone. Pain radiated across his face when he got off the bike to stretch. He’s a tall drink of water, that one, and his knees were none too happy, either. He had been popping Advil and ibuprofen to try and counter the pain, but I think at this point, it was a losing battle. His attitude was still great, though, and we sallied forth to make our way through Charlevoix to M119.

Charlevoix on a sunny, summer, Saturday afternoon is NOT a fun place to try and get through efficiently. The roads aren’t wide enough, the traffic lights are badly-timed, and people don’t necessarily try to cooperate with each other. It took us probably 20 minutes to get through town very, very slowly, which was frustrating. It didn’t matter what lane I chose – it was always The Wrong One. Le sigh.

Once we were through, we could enjoy the views of Lake Michigan and the pretty countryside. There is an unholy amount of Big Money in that area, and it shows in their gorgeous infrastructure, country clubs, riding stables, and so forth. There is an RV Motor Coach Resort nearby that’s far nicer than any hotel I’ve ever stayed in.

We slipped through the lovely, quaint town of Harbor Springs without any trouble, and got onto M119, the famous Tunnel of Trees scenic drive, which I had very much looked forward to. However, we entered the road immediately behind The Smelliest, Dieselest, Road-Hoggingest Dodge Ram truck carrying a camper bed. Shit. He was puttering along at about 30 miles per hour, and didn’t take any of frequent opportunities to pull over and let the three motorcycles behind him pass. I even made sure he could see me in his mirrors, but no. It was his road, and he was happy to own it.

Now, understand – I am all about leisurely, safe driving along pretty routes. I don’t want to rush anyone. But I am also all about being polite and letting other drivers by if they’re in a bigger hurry than I am. There were plenty of places he could have let us pass. I knew we would have one chance to pass him; M119 takes a 90-degree left turn, which is followed by a very short, 200-ish-yard straight stretch. If there was oncoming traffic there, we were screwed for the whole journey, which we would then spend inhaling his filthy exhaust and silently cursing his rude behavior.

Thankfully, there was no one oncoming, and a quick twist of the throttle left him behind us. We enjoyed the views and the 1.5-lane twisty road for a mile or two before an enormous, oversized motor home came barreling over a blind hill, taking up the entire road, not even trying to stay on his side. Had we been 10 seconds sooner, we might have all been dead right there – perhaps I should be thanking at Dodge driver instead of ruing his existence…

I gave the motor home driver an evil stare which he could not see, and Jim apparently flipped him the bird. I hope it gave him a wake-up call as to sharing the incredibly narrow, full-of-blind-curves-and-hills road with other people.

We continued on our way, Lake Michigan and its various islands directly to our left and down about 200 feet, beautiful, amazing cottages and homes to our right, and occasionally left. We passed through various elbow turns, including the Devil’s Elbow, which offered a nice opportunity to practice some tactical turns. I am in love with this road, and have been since I first drove it late one December. This time, I loved it even more, as it was not covered with a very thick, smooth, sheet of ice.

We passed by the shop where Mike and I had found The Most Amazing chocolate cherry sauce I’ve ever had, and continued toward Cross Village – a nice bonus location for our Nerd Motorcycle Rally event. Ill fortune found us once again, however, as we came up behind 3 motorcyclists, who were also content to apologetically take up The Entire Damn Road at 20mph. We had to follow them for the duration of the ride up M119 – they wouldn’t wave us by, pull over, make any attempt to be cooperative, or even acknowledge our presence.

By the time we got to the tiny hamlet that is Cross Village, we were all pretty pissed off and feeling the pressure of time. 20 miles at 20 miles per hour was not fun to think about in terms of how it related to whether we would finish on time. As we came into the village, I pulled us over in front of the village sign for a photo. We nommed some food, Jim ate more pain pills, and we unwound a little bit. Jim was in extreme pain, and it wasn’t being tamed much by the OTC remedies. My heart went out to him – I’ve had seemingly-unending rides during which I’ve been in abject, nearly unbearable pain, and they are the longest miles ever. Being in pain for awhile can be an almost welcome distraction from the mile-upon-mile days, but only to a very short point – after that, it adds to the physical and mental exhaustion, and saps stamina quickly.

Since we had lost so much time behind asshats, and since we had only gone 80 miles since our last gas stop (which had been over two hours ago,) we bailed on taking the scenic route to Mackinaw City, and instead hopped on the straight road to Levering and grabbed US-31 up to Mack City. We paused there for awhile to take a rally bonus photo of us next to the Mackinaw Bridge. Jim said he was having second thoughts about completing the ride. This was heart-breaking news – he’d come so far (over 450 miles,) and was about 5 hours from home. By the time we could get him to Jackson on the shortest path, he would be only 250 miles (about 4 hours) from completing the whole ride.

Still, the pain was that bad. He made up his mind to scrub the mission and head home. This left Severin and me with a decision to make – let Jim bomb down I-75 toward home alone while we carried out our original plan of hugging the coastline, or escort Jim safely back so he wouldn’t have to do it alone. Doing the whole second half on the freeway would be very tiring, but it wasn’t a difficult decision to make – I hoped maybe having us with him would make the ride suck a little less for Jim, plus, I wanted to make sure he got home safely. We started together, and we should stick together, especially since he was hundreds of miles away from home.

We gassed up and confirmed abandoning the route to see our hurting friend safely back.

It was so odd to see the little town of Mackinaw City so alive and bustling with people. When I spent time there over the winter, most businesses were closed and people were scarce. As we turned South, I bid adieu to the water, and was a bit sad we wouldn’t get to travel through Cheboygan and past Mike’s family’s vacation cottage along US-23 on Lake Huron, but our choice was the more responsible one.

We blasted down I-75 south with me still leading, with my wildly-varying speeds. On the freeway, this is more of a nuisance for those following me, since they can’t set their cruise control. Too, my speedometer reads low, while Severin’s and Jim’s reads high, so I was aiming for a weird goal of 72 as read on mine, which apparently translates to 78 on theirs. I found myself going back and forth between about 69 and 78 indicated, despite looking at it at least once every 30 seconds, which probably drove my two unfortunate ducklings nuts.

We pulled off in Harrison, gassed up, and I asked one of them to take the lead. I’d been on point for about 400 miles and my brain very much wanted to shut off and stop obsessing over how fast or slow I was going. Jim stepped up again, and we all basked in his cruise control from Harrison down to Jackson – aahhhh, delicious regulated speed.

We had at that point been on the road for almost exactly 12 hours straight. Physically, I was doing really well; I was a bit road-weary from being on the freeway, and I was feeling some level of physical tiredness, but I downed a 5-Hour Energy drink, which helped considerably. I was ready to throw the backpack away, but sensibility won that argument. Plus, it was nice being able to hydrate whilst underway via the Camelbak bladder I had in there.

Severin’s eyes were getting somewhat bloodshot, and he was experiencing some pain from his saddle, too. Jim’s outstanding demeanor continued, but he was in agony. We pushed onward, down I-75 to 127 and into Lansing. This stretch is boring, and I’m somewhat tired of it, having driven back and forth upon it several times over the winter. There isn’t much to look at, although the pavement is pretty good, and we made great time. On the way to Lansing, I had been trying to plot where we could go after dropping Jim off to complete our final 250-ish miles. I was drawing a blank – there wasn’t a really good way to do it that didn’t involve circles, repetitive back-and-forth (which is frowned upon by the IBA overlords,) crap pavement, or getting really far away from home.

The sun was still up and I felt good, but I knew once it got dark, my energy levels would probably tank considerably and those last couple of hundred miles would seem eternal. We gassed up in Lansing, I had a Starbuck’s Double Espresso shot, and headed down to Jackson, where we said our goodbyes to Jim. He was SO close to completing the ride – only 250 miles away! – and had considered giving it a shot. However, 4 or 5 more hours in that kind of pain just seemed miserable, and it would have been. He made the right call, and it was a tough one. I have so much respect for how far he came under that much extreme pain while still being totally cool about it. He did offer to throw a tantrum, though, if it would make us feel better. 🙂 I repacked all of my gear into my backpack, but my pants back on, and off we went.

When we pulled onto 94 heading east, the sun was down and we had our last dregs of light. With dusk comes deer, but thankfully there were none to be seen. I had thrown a hasty plan at Severin, who offered to lead – head to Ann Arbor and take  US-23 North. We’d figure it out from there. As we got off 94 into the oddball US-23 interchange as planned, I checked my mirrors to see what was behind me. As I glanced back up again, I saw Sev heading off down the US-23 South entrance ramp, and had to make a very hasty swerve to keep from passing it myself.

There is a thing about US-23 which is true, which I forget. That thing is this: US-23 is always, always under construction. There is no stopping it. It is simply a fact of the road.

A couple of miles south, we hit that construction, and were funneled into a 50-miles-per-hour, single-lane line of traffic. We passed orange and white barrel after orange and white barrel, which were apparently just out for fun, because the smooth, even, fresh asphalt on the other side of them looked complete and totally unobstructed. So it goes.

By the time we reached Carpenter Road in Milan, we’d had enough. We gassed up, ate some snacks, and gulped down another Starbuck’s Double Shot Energy Drink for extra energy. I was a hurting unit at this point, nearly stalling the bike out at the stop sign on the off-ramp. Fine motor control was a foreign concept, and everything seemed vaguely surreal. Severin looked pretty bleary, too, but reported feeling fine. “Let’s head to Flint,” I said; “maybe that’ll give us enough miles.”

I had forgotten Flint was only about 50 miles at most from Lansing – my brain was not capable of computing distances or numbers. I just wanted to get this mess over and done with as quickly as possible. It was a stupid Hail Mary, and of course, it didn’t work.

Somehow I ended up back in the lead, and as I got us onto US-23 going North (which is under slightly less construction than the southbound lanes,) I settled immediately behind a red car. I have no idea how fast I was going, because I was trying to get my mental bearings, and was failing miserably. There were so many bright lights all around, and my ridiculously photo-sensitive eyes were having a hard time focusing on things, while my brain just plain couldn’t make sense out of it.

Barely a minute had gone by when Severin blasted by me, taking the lead. I wondered if I was going super-slow, or weaving, or doing something else that caused him concern, but he later reported he just wanted to be helpful. He’s a good guy, that Severin.

The stretch from Milan to Flint is largely a blur, and none of it made any sense whatsoever. Thank goodness Sev was leading, because I surely would’ve lead us straight into a bridge abutment. I was really struggling not so much to stay awake, but to stay aware and make sense of my environment. All basic bike-related functions were automatic, but things like finding the horn or the turn signal were difficult. I was completely convinced someone was going to merge into one of us and run us over, and felt horribly, horribly vulnerable and invisible.

The construction barrels were blazing blindingly by, as were the headlights of the oncoming traffic. There were just Too Many Lights and reflecting objects coming at me too fast, which was overwhelming. For the entire ride to Flint, I had the sense that this is what my mom’s whole life is like, post traumatic brain injury: She is always at least vaguely anxious, everything happens too fast for her to follow, she’s somewhat fearful, but just has to get through it, often with someone guiding the way. She is largely at the mercy of those around her. I felt a great deal of compassion for her then, but surely not enough to heal all the old wounds and issues. It was good insight, though. Sadly, it did nothing to help me cope with everything.

Thankfully, nothing out of the ordinary happened during this stretch, and we arrived safely in Flint. Severin later reported trying to signal me with his hands, but black gloves in the dark do not show up in headlights, and I missed it. He wondered if we should get a receipt here to show our location – and we should have. But we didn’t. I hope this doesn’t cause any issues with our certification.

The entrance ramp to I-69W was suddenly upon me, with its sharp curve. In my mental state, this appeared out of nowhere and shocked me back into my senses somewhat. We were both taken somewhat by surprise with this turn, and neither of much cares for sharp turns in the dark, or riding in the dark in general. Almost immediately, I saw a sign: Lansing 44 Miles.

Shit.

That was going to be at least 100 miles short of what we needed. Shit, Shit, Shit.

Somewhat more alert after the surprise of the sharp curve, I found a position that was a little hunched over my tank. This blasted fresh air right up into my helmet and helped to wake me up and keep me refreshed. The caffeine seemed to kick in here, too, because I was suddenly on my second wind and feeling pretty good once more. I still wanted to be done and go to sleep, but I wasn’t miserable and clinging to the bike for my life anymore.

We stopped in Lansing for gas, and to figure out what to do next. It was just after midnight, and Severin’s birthday had arrived – quite a way to spend it!

We needed almost exactly 100 miles by my odometer, plus a little extra to allow for possible odometer over-reporting. I didn’t want to overlap our previous route, so we opted for going out about 52 miles west down I-96 to the Lowell exit, and then coming on back. That 45 or so minute passed quickly by, thankfully, and we stopped at a gas station/convenience store just off the freeway. Neither of us had used much gas at all, so rather than a gas receipt, we opted for a beverage and receipt.

As I took off my helmet and parked it on my mirror per usual, I didn’t do a very good job and it was suddenly bouncing and tumbling along the pavement a good 15 feet.

Shit.

That’s a new, $500 helmet! Argh! But we couldn’t worry about such trifles then.

I down a delicious, glorious orange juice not even caring if it was an evil “flavor pak”-containing brand (it probably is.) It tasted delicious and was so refreshing.

This was it – we were in the home stretch now! All we had to do was get to the Cedar Street exit to drop Severin off and get his final receipt, and then I had to get myself safely home for my own receipt. The trip back to Lansing was easy mode and went by with a quickness – thank goodness. We pulled into the Speedway right off the freeway just moments after the bar next door had closed. The station was full of drunk, loud, belligerent, flirty, mating-call-making, posturing kids in their twenties generally making scenes. Fortunately, no one drove into us or backed over us as they were jockeying their cars around inexplicably, and most had left by the time we were done.

We did some self-congratulating, but I really wanted to get home so we said our goodbyes and parted ways. Home was about 20 miles away for me, and I saw a lot of deer along the way, their green or yellow eyes glowing at me from the fields and margin areas. In my hometown, I grabbed my final gas receipt, noted my final odometer reading, and happily turned for home. There were so many deer out, I went 35 the whole way, playing out various unhappy scenarios in my head:

“She had just completed over 1,000 miles that day, only to be killed less than 3 miles from home when she hit a deer.”

I consciously drilled myself on what I would do if a deer appeared HERE, or THERE, or if THIS happened. There is a theory in the motorcycling community which friends of mine have put into practice: If a deer jumps in front of you and you can’t avoid it, DO NOT BRAKE – Hit the throttle! The idea being you’ll have more momentum and will have a better chance of remaining upright after the collision than if the bike was in a downward trajectory due to hard braking. A friend of mine literally split a deer in two using this method, and remained upright. Another hit an elk, riding two-up, and stayed up after the glancing blow. I visualize this happening – see deer, hit throttle; see deer, hit throttle. It goes counter to instinct. I hope I never have to find out whether I’ve successfully trained myself for this occasion.

Finally, there was our driveway, there was our house. Aahhh.

I opened our garage to find my eleven little chickens perched up and sleeping, some on top of the upright freezer, well out of their allowed zone. I was too tired to care. I took a photo of the bike’s trip and regular odometer, so happy to be home. I could hear my dogs exuberantly barking and howling inside. I stumbled into the house, where I was greeted by two excited dogs and a relieved husband. I took off all the Space Cop/Michelin Man/Sta-Puft Marshmallow gear, including the odious back pack. Ahhhhhhh!

We were done – it was over. Mission accomplished!

I was sad for our friend Jim, who had to call it quits so close to the end – but I’m pretty certain he’ll give it another go, once he has his saddle situation all sorted out. He’s got a good idea of what it takes now, and I have no doubt he can do it – I hope I can go with him when he does.

So, why exactly did we do this? I’ve never been entirely sure why I’ve done them in the past, but this time, I had clear reasons: I wanted to show my friends the crazy but satisfying world of endurance motorcycling, to open that door. Severin had a light bulb turn on when I said, “if we had ridden in a straight line, we’d be in Texas right now.” It gives us a whole new perspective on the distances that we can travel on the bike, and in what sort of time period.

Too, I wanted a good shakedown ride on the new bike. This was the most comfortable endurance ride I’ve never had, bar none. The Sundowner saddle was almost perfect, as was the bike. My hands and wrists didn’t want to wither and die as they do on sport or sport-touring bikes, and while the backpack affected my shoulders, that was unrelated to the bike itself.

I was fairly sure I’d wake up this morning and be totally locked up, back muscles in spasm, every movement causing shooting pains throughout my whole body. Thankfully, that didn’t happen My forearms are sore, my legs are a little sore, and my shoulders are quite sore. But I don’t feel as if I’ve been hit by a truck like I have previously. Yay.

Mostly, though, I did this ride to see if I still could – a personal challenge. It went better than I could have hoped, and I think having so many hours of daylight was a big part of it. Those miles after dark are much, much harder for me. Plus, the company was terrific, the roads up until we had to bomb south were really nice, and the bike was so very comfortable. I wish we could have completed our intended route, but getting Jim home was more important. We can do it again some other time, and I bet sticking to the two-lane roads will help keep me more focused and prevent a lot of the road-buzzy feelings I get from extended freeway rides.