The Wheel Turns: A Matter of Safety

 

The windblast coming over the fairing would push your head back. White lines down the center of the road become a blur as you roll the throttle, pushing the rpm’s towards redline. A right hand sweeper is ahead. You tuck in, starting the bank for a high-speed corner.

A half hour before, at this same spot, a beater truck had a blow out sending it onto the graveled shoulder, the tires spitting a couple shovels full of crud onto the road. After affecting repairs, he returned to the road the same way he left it – spinning gravel.

After setting the line for the curve you hold tight. The world is coming past you at an insane rate. Gravel ahead, the front tire shifts to the left while the rear jumps to the right. SLAM! You’re down and sliding along with the machine. Rocks gouging your flesh before the asphalt rips your skin off. The bike flips and you’re flung to the side cracking your skull against a rock. Broken, bleeding, and your brain drips into the black surface of the road. You die, staring the bike wondering if she’ll start.

Road Ready!

 

 

It’s just a beautiful day, sun shining on that sparkly new scooter Amy just got to commute with. The little machine will save tons in gas money, easy to park and kind of fun and perky to ride. Flip flops, shorts, sunglasses, bikini top and sunscreen to protect her skin from the harmful rays. She was going to the beach to meet up with Janey and the girls then do some scootering along the waterfront. ‘It’ll be so much fun’ Amy was thinking just before being hit by a car that was exiting a fast food joint. The driver had a burger stuffed in his mouth and was trying to get the big gulp into the beverage holder that was too small for the cup. He looked away from the road to get the cola into the hole. When he looked up, it was to see Amy bouncing off the hood of his car. Amy won’t be going to the beach any more. The head trauma has left her a little slow and she drools now.

Here are two prime examples of how an accident happens. Sure, there are a million variations. But mostly, it was folk just out to have a good time. In both cases, neither rider had done anything really wrong, besides being in the wrong place at the wrong time. So what happened?

Kimo, our first rider, had been laughed at by his friends the first time he wore his new helmet and Day-Glo jacket with his new bike. Since then, he disregarded the advice given by the salespeople concerning protective gear and let his pals call the shots. None of his buds wore anything beyond a pair of cool shades.

Amy, though concerned about the side effects from too much sun, didn’t buy any safety equipment. The helmets were so big and the clothes so bulky. Not a very sexy, carefree look.

What is it about safety equipment that intelligent people shun? Amy would still be going to the beach if she just spent some of that gas money she saved on a helmet, any kind! There are enough brands with colors and styles to meet anyone’s expectations of cool and budget. Of course, the gear doesn’t work worth a damn if you don’t wear it, as Kimo unfortunately found out.

The phrase, ‘you don’t appreciate protective gear until you need it,’ comes to mind about now. That helmet and jacket don’t do anything if they are still hung in the closet. I, too, have been guilty of not wearing gear on short runs. To the store or post office, it’s just a few miles. The warm breeze blowing through your hair, ruffling your tee shirt and toes naked, catching a few rays. It felt good, fun. But the fun can stop pretty damn quick. It’s one thing to dump your bike, it happens. Scratched paint, bent stuff, basically customized by crash. A few grand into the bike and it’s now lying on the ground and you feel like shit. Your helmet has big gouge and fingertips of your gloves are ground through. The jacket kept your skin intact. Sure you’ll get a few nasty bruises in the next few hours and tomorrow you will really feel it. Right now you’ve got to shake it off and get the bike upright to access the damage. A new turn signal and handlebars are needed and you’ll learn to ignore to the damaged paint. The second most important thing is you learned is never to touch the front brake when on a loose surface such as gravel. The most important is that the safety gear lets you walk away from the crash, which beats an ambulance ride any day. And if there is a need for emergency care, you will have less damage than no gear at all.

 

Versatile motorcycle apparel also protects on levels you don’t think of. The elements, e.g. Yesterday my wife and I went for a cross-island ride to visit some friends. At home it was 85 degrees, sun shining with a light breeze. I think we both growled a little when we were putting on the riding suits. I mean it was soo nice out. Thirty miles into an eighty-mile run, the sky opened up and the rain started coming down. We pulled over, zipped up and pushed on, certain it would end soon. It didn’t. Coming over the volcano, the temperature dropped thirty degrees and it was getting downright cool. We knew it wouldn’t last. The temp that is. Dropping down the eastern face brought the mercury back up. There was nothing we could do about the rain but laugh.

Had we left that morning dressed for the sunny day we thought we had coming, the ride would have been aborted at thirty miles or been one miserable soaking wet and cold ride. I have seen it happen hundreds of times. You stop at the nearest convenience store and buy some garbage bags. Now we’re looking good.

The same goes for the reverse of weather conditions. It’s a blistering 100 degrees, not a cloud in the sky with the black road too hot to touch; you are riding in an oven. Your jacket and pants serve as a layer of protection against the sun’s rays. They’re also keeping the wind from sucking every drop of water out of your body.

It’s a win-win type of deal. From leather to textiles, there is safety motorcycle apparel for every budget and style, from one-piece jumpsuits to pants/jacket set. Mix and match, create your own look and let it be seen on the road.

All Suited Up!

 

 

 

I wear an Aerostitch One-piece Roadcrafter. They are made in America and considered the finest gear around. Cost is relative as the suits last for twenty years or more. For a long time I wore mis-matched gear, mostly knee-pads over jeans, sweatshirt, jean jacket, work gloves and ratty helmets. It was something and something is better than nothing. Times change and I saved to get the best I could buy.

Think about it! Wear it! What have you got to lose, a little pride, a few bucks? “It is better to lose a little face than leave it smeared along the road.” A couple hundred bucks on a helmet beats a couple hundred thousand dollars in medical bills.

Ride safely. Protect yourself.
Aloha!

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The Wheel Turns – 2012 X-Country Ride:; Thoughts, Observations and a Retrospective

 

Okay, what do you want first, the good or the bad? Well then I guess we’ll just toss it up a bit. I guess what amazed me most was the people across this great country of ours. What a mix up we have. Yet no matter where you were or the color of your riding apparel, there were smiling faces always willing to take a moment and show human kindness in whatever form it took. When you’re lost, a long way from where you are supposed to be and not a clue as to how to get there, it comes as a great relief when some good Samaritan gives you directions. The roles would change from time to time as well. I always travel with a pretty well stocked tool kit and it’s surprising how something like a Phillips head can make someone’s day. What goes around comes around, as they say.

Camping in the Badlands

We saw extremes of wealth and poverty. What community spirit can do and what happens when there is none. The towns that industry built and what remained after its departure. Enclaves of gentrification surrounded by slums. The unsurpassed character of older architecture next to stucco, glass, polished aluminum and plastic.

Then one leaves the urban surroundings and heads out into the countryside. From the farms to the forests, mountains to the deserts of the southwest, beauty runs rampant across the land. Yes, we saw fracking, strip mining, digging coal straight from the ground along the roadside, oil rigs – it happens. The vast tracts of green forest however had me mesmerized. So many acres, so many trees. It was good for the soul to ride amongst them. But there is something happening to the trees from the west coast to the east coast. They are dying by the millions. At first glance you don’t notice. Then you begin to look closer. The nation-wide drought has weakened the forests along with an infestation of wood-boring insects, taking advantage of the crippling effects of drought. The campgrounds we stayed at, all of them, were very strict about not transferring wood from one location to another, in an effort to slow the migration of bugs. At more than a few camps there was no burning at all due to the drought.

Rivers are streams, streams are creeks and creeks are dry. Man, it’s been a rough summer. Still the sights, sounds and smells of the country never cease to amaze you. Even the smells of a refinery caught on the morning breeze in some town in Wyoming had a certain something. One passerby took a deep breath and quipped, ‘Smells like independence!’ Oh the irony!

Perhaps that is what I had been inhaling the whole ride; independence and the very foundation on which our country stands. We take these things for granted, but think about it. You have the freedom to do what you want to do. Even jump on a motorcycle and ride across the country any time you feel like it.

Speaking of freedom, there is one thing. Sturgis. We were lucky to be passing through that area of South Dakota a few days before the opening. It was easy to see why the Sioux held this land area as sacred. Sometimes in your face, at other times, more sublime, the beauty of the land was truly remarkable. I was blown at so many Harley Davidson’s on the road. (Remember I live on an island in the middle of the ocean.) From ancient iron to brand new just off the assembly line, the variations and styles staggered the imagination. It’s quite a cool, noisy sight to see a hundred bikers riding in a pack down the road. Rolling thunder indeed! In a way it’s kind of a freedom rally.

This year though I was shocked by numbers after the rally was over. Nine dead and forty three injured in motorcycle accidents. Those are pretty rough numbers by anyone’s standards. I would hope some of the Sturgis organizers and Harley Davidson kind of step up to plate on this one and do some promotion and education on biker safety. It’s just a party. Nobody should be dying.

 

A motorcycle ride like this one is a once in a lifetime kind of deal. Oh sure, I have made a few in the past, and hope for a couple more before the ‘big ride’ is through. But there will never be another quite like the 2012 X-Country Ride: Wheels on Fire. The journey became epic as it progressed, tapping all the requirements necessary for a real adventure.

We pushed ourselves to the limit of endurance and beyond. It wasn’t the machines that were of concern. They could certainly withstand far more than we were asking of them. Nevertheless they were part of the equation requiring due diligence and attention. It was the human factor that was the X amongst the numbers, unknown yet pivotal in the outcome. Physical hardship became a tool for human growth. Digging deep and finding out just how much you’ve got, comes at a cost. Cheap it is, compared to what you get out of it. Learning your limits, not by staying within them, but by stretching them to the limit. If one snaps, you will have learned your limit by going beyond them and surviving. Having goals, meeting them and sometimes surpassing them. There are always obstacles, physical, mental, heat, cold, distance, light and dark, that will try to get in the way of the goal. Only by meeting each handicap and coming to terms with them do you succeed. As long as you do your best the real goal is always met.

Badlands Sunrise

 

 

7843 miles of

ALOHA

The Wheel Turns – 2012 X-Country Ride: California Bound; 620 miles of Hell and Irony.

Morning in Wendover was hot, even before the sun rose. All that concrete couldn’t dump its heat during the night, so the place just gets hotter and hotter. A camp breakfast and cup of hotel coffee and we were on the road. This is perhaps the earliest start of the trip. It would also be the most miles covered in one day, thus the carpe diem. The throttle was rolled and once we hit 80 mph you settled in the seat and assumed the position. Our stops were limited to gas and go. As the day came on in earnest, they would become more frequent.

Road Shot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nevada has a unique beauty to it. Sure the land is desolate and bleak, but if you can see past the veneer it rivals any of the sights we have seen on this trip with mountains and high deserts, windswept expanses of nothing in all directions. The vistas were used as a distraction as the heat of the day poured it on. Before noon we had broken the ride’s temperature record at 107 degrees while moving. You had to laugh; I mean this was getting ridiculous. Nevada stretched on, horizon after horizon waving in the heat. Long hours later the Sierras loomed before us. Visions of riding in the cool mountain air gave a jolt to keep the wheels turning.

After an unending brown, the tree line greeted us with green. Dry but still lush to these eyes. The rivers and lakes were low yet sparkling clear blue, and cold. The temp didn’t drop so much as we would have liked. Kale reminded me to ice up as we were headed down the mountain into the Central Valley. He didn’t mention the current temperature in Davis, Ca. He didn’t have to.

Surely at some point the tires of the bike have to melt and end this madness. Especially now. We crawled through Sacramento, Ca. at rush hour. Eight lanes of solid cars supposedly heading east greeted us. ‘What the hell is that?’ I thought when tail lights started going on ahead of us. For ten miles we clutched the unforgiving stretch of asphalt surrounded by talking heads on cell phones. At least we were moving. The eastbound lanes had turned into a parking lot.

Then suddenly free. The lanes ahead opened and RPM’s came up. The wind, even though hot, was still refreshing after sucking exhaust fumes for a half an hour. The sun beat down on us, but somehow it wasn’t a killing blow. Putting together all the things learned over the course of the ride came into play, keeping you alert and responsive.

Davis, Ca. was gasping for a breath of cool air when we pulled off for our final fuel stop. I needed re-icing and a good douse of cold water. In paying attention to the ambient heat, I missed something Kale was saying about weather just ahead. The joke would be on me. Another half hour of the blistering heat and we crossed the San Gabriel Mountains into the Bay Area. The temperature plummeted with the altitude as fog rolled in across the Berkley Hills.

115 degrees to 54 degrees in a matter of minutes. Moments later I was shivering. The iced bandana, wet shirt, and salted body from sweat soaked up the cold moist air. At seventy miles an hour, it was not time to fiddle with the knot on my bandana. Turn on the heated handgrips instead and start laughing was about the only appropriate response I could think of. Having dreamt of a moment like this for thousands of miles I certainly wasn’t going to bitch when the dream came true.

A stop at a grocery store for fresh salad and ice cream. Then through the streets of Oakland to Kale’s house. Kickstands went down, a pause. Engines shut off, another pause. We both just sat there for a moment, in mindful thanks before swinging down off the saddle. A high five. A robust hug. I think at that moment, all we wanted to do was get back on the motorcycles and keep going.

As Kale put it, “It was a blast, I tell ya, a blast!”

John’s Bike

Next: 2012 X-Country Ride; Thoughts and Observations, a Retrospective

Kale’s Bike

The Wheel Turns – 2012 X-Country Ride: Frying our Way across the West at a Blistering Pace.

Never one to make Kale wait unduly, we broke camp. Unfortunately my one cup of coffee was finished. I would have to deal on my own. With an altered plan of attack, we hit the road with a mission; get me back in one piece. Backtracking thirty miles got us to US25 south. We booked it, eating up the cool of the hot morning. At 85 mph, the pace was still slow. Huge pickups blasted passed us. You could only guess at the speed. The high plains began to roll more and the surface of the road, excellent. A few herds of cows and bison went by in a blur of speed. The bikes held tight. After a leisurely pace across the country, they finally had a chance to run. High speed, well not high speed, but really fast, sweepers, rights, lefts, rises and dips. I think we all enjoyed the experience.

We spent the night in Casper. A short day for us that allowed for some time to watch the Olympics and hydrate in the cool of a hotel room. Ahead was a big stop. Independence Rock. The outcropping of stone got its name from the early pioneers who arrived at this point in their journey on July Fourth. A portion of the original trail is has been saved. A bridge crosses it for viewing and imagination. The rock itself is a massive blunt of stone rising from the floor of the plains with nothing around except the sage, gophers and distant mountain range that was appropriately out of place.

As the pioneers must have been thankful for making it this far, so was I. Even more thankful to have such a good friend and riding partner as Kale. There are only a few who enjoy long hours of riding everyday. Six to eight is tops for most folk and more than enough for anyone. We are the exception. Considering the next few days ahead…

Through the Green Mountains, Whiskey Peak and down to our old friend Interstate 80. After a lunch that was best left forgotten, we did on 80 what 80 was made for, making time. The heat pressed down on you like one of those weights they put on bacon to keep it flat. There was just no escaping it. Water, lots of it, and don’t let it get to you.

If you want to think, the road gives you plenty of time to do it. You have to remain alert enough to ride and keep the mind active, somehow. For one stretch of road I sang ‘ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall’ until reaching the next fuel stop.  A little crazy I will admit, but whatever it takes to stay on the ball is what it takes. The day rolled on relentlessly, waves of heat warping the road, melting reality. Everything you saw had that Dali look to it, like wax sagging in the heat. Kale looked like a lava light, his helmet that big glob that’s just about to break free. A turn signal, a rest area, shade and cold water. Whoo, that was close!

From here on out it would be one’s ability to endure that would make the difference. It’s just heat. Stay hydrated, iced down, and don’t lose your cool. You can endure longer if you keep your head. Lose it and it’s over.

Mountain ranges loomed ahead. The thought of cool alpine air gave you something to look forward to. We pulled off for gas and supplies in Park City, Utah. The drop in temperature was a mere five degrees. There would be no relief as we dropped down into the Salt Lake valley. The pancake flat land stretched far beyond the horizon. The famous salt flats are but a small, brilliant stretch of this level plain.

We gassed again at the beginning of Bonneville Salt Flats, watered up and iced down. This last push of the day was going to be brutal. At least the sun was still high in the sky and not burning holes through your eyes. The bright glare of reflected sun off the salt crystal however made up for what would have been a small relief. Thoughts of being out on the flats without water or shade were not happy ones. Having mentioned the flats in one of my books it was nice to see memory served well when describing them. The white hot flash of an arc welder would give you an idea of the brilliance of the land. There were no plumes of salt grit rising from the raceway at the western end of the flat. The rooster tails of racing cars or motorcycles would shoot high off the rear tires describing its path across the flats. There were no tails today. It must be the heat I thought. They would race in the early day before everything melts or in the evening after it solidifies again.

The mountains on the western edge seemed to be dripping into the valley. There was no respite from the heat but there was Wendover, Utah. A border town half in Utah, half in Nevada. We spent the night in a hotel on the Utah side for the quiet. Step over the state line and its casinoville. Tonight was the last night of the trip. The moon was full as it was the day we left. Though not home yet we were coming full circle. Unbeknownst to me at the time tomorrow would be the final exam, testing all the skills we gained over the course of the last month and push us to the limit.

Next: California bound. 620 miles of Hell and Irony.