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!

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