Riding to sleep

I took a long ride tonight. I’ve been wanting to take the bike out for a ride for a very long time. I never have any real reason for riding it and never have the money to indulge in any real travel. But today I hit a wall and I needed to get out.

I first rode to Chinook. Why? Because it gave me a single, simple goal and allowed me to use a couple of “fast” roads to take the bike up to speed. I parked at the very top of the parking cluster and stopped in at the food court. Treating myself to a cheap meal I relaxed and finished a book I’d been reading. “Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline. It’s a fascinating little book juxtaposing the life of an orphan in the 1930s with the life of an orphan in the aughts. Vivian was orphaned in New York in 1929 and bounced between a few homes of increasing misery before lucking out with a couple who owned a general goods store. Molly is orphaned in the 2000s and bounces from foster home to foster home before encountering Vivian.

It says something about me that, in the last few pages of the book, as the storyline becomes more and more positive, I kept waiting for the Bad News Hammer to fall. But everything ended up okay, families were reunited, and everything was a super duper happy ending.

I'm sorry everything worked out so well.

I’m sorry everything worked out so well.

Which kind of disappointed me, and cheapened the struggles. Everything up until that point had been painfully realistic, with loss and achievement fairly evenly matched. When things went truly horrid I had the sense that the characters would seize on a chance that would turn their fortunes around, and they did. And when things were going smooth and easy I expected the characters to hit some other terrible snag, someone might die or a home would be lost, and they would have to persevere. And they did.

But the super happy fun time ending kind of… fizzled the whole experience. It was just the kind of thing where I expect some producer was sitting off to one side and said “can we guarantee a happy ending?” lest the funding run out.

Other than the ending the book is very well written and thoroughly researched. I strongly recommend it, particularly if you’re looking for something with a Disney ending.

Having finished my book I returned to my bike and suited up for a full speed run. I quickly decided to make a long trip home. The sun was down and the twilight was just perfect. I took Glenmore to Deerfoot to Stoney to Crowchild. The whole ride home took me about 45 minutes and made me realize that, were I to suddenly be rich, I would need to ease myself back into long distance riding. My ass was decidedly sore by the end of it and my thigh muscles were shaky.

Still, if I were to be suddenly rich I could also afford some riding pegs and a better seat. Both problems solved.

The ride was good for my soul. The wind howling past my helmet and the thrum of the engine between my legs. The smell of the wild grass beside the road, and the firm grip of the tires through each turn. All of it was exactly what I needed.

Venus HumAnd now, having had very poor sleep for the past two or three days (I’m honestly not sure how long it’s been) I feel I might actually be able to sleep by midnight tonight. I’m tempted to go to bed now, but I fear that would turn into just an hour nap and I’d be wide awake at midnight.

I’m going to put a few minutes into playing Halo instead. The original game is so familiar it’s practically like playing solitaire. In the meantime I’ve found Venus Hum’s last album and have been absorbing it as I write. So pretty.

Why do I fear writing?

I was born to a single mother of a large extended family. For 80 to 90% of my time it was either the two of us or just me. A lot of just me. When we spent time with the extended family I didn’t identify with anyone. Nobody was even a little bit like me. I was soft and emotional and even the women in my family were tougher than me. I cried at the littlest things and nobody knew what the hell to do with me. Things that were common conflicts between my cousins, daily struggles and fights that blew over like flash paper, left me burnt, hurting, and withdrawn.

It quickly became my most common tactic to avoid the family as much as possible. I didn’t hate them, and I never have. I’ve never even been angry with them. They just don’t get me, and I don’t get them. The worst that I can say is that I was constantly aware of what a disappointing puzzle I was. My aunts tried to be sympathetic to a point, and my uncles, near as I can tell, were either disgusted with me or inclined to just write me off.

I never felt I had any chance to prove them wrong. I was disappointing. That part was always clear.

To the best of my recollection I was only ever passionate about two things that I could DO. In my younger years it was programming, and I was good at it. Then I grew disillusioned of programming, burned out on the stress and pace of it, and just confirmed my tendency to disappoint.

The second was learning to ride my motorbike. It was the first thing I ever attempted that was considered universally cool, even by those who felt it was needlessly reckless.

I was working a very physically demanding job at the time, one that frequently had me working ten and eleven hours a day. I would start work at 7:30 and leave at 6:30, regularly. When I signed up for my riding classes I was fortunate that my manager agreed to let me leave work at 5:30 to get to class by 6. It was an incredibly trying and stressful week, working hard all day lifting and delivering, then spending four hours every night learning a terrifying new skill that I invested my entire will into. I pretty much got through it by being angry all day. It was the only energy that would persevere. Anything else was too soft, too ready to give up.

I learned to ride in the dark. I had signed up for the first class of the year, which took place in the second week of March. The sun was down by the time class started and we learned by the minimal light of a stadium parking lot. The temperature was often below freezing, except for one night where it rained. The next evening the puddles froze and we learned to handle, or avoid, ice. My first bike drop was due to an invisible patch of ice in the dark. One evening we had snow. Another we had fog. Short of hail and hard wind I learned to ride in all the worst weather there was.

It paid off. I passed the class and, more importantly, passed my riding test.

Programming came easy to me. It was an enjoyable mental exercise and I rarely had to fight with it to make it work. (programming tools, on the other hand…) I always knew that, if I couldn’t solve a problem today, I could get some rest and get back to it tomorrow. In all likelihood a potential answer would occur to me before I even went to bed and I approached the problem with confidence. Programming, while it was difficult and convoluted, was never a RISK for me. It was a nice safe thing to do to make money. The risk came later with the environment of pressure and stress of deadlines and overtime and changes in mid stride and just shit that I’ve come to term “managing an artistic process with a manufacturing attitude.” While I definitely burned out of the programming environment the actual act of programming itself was just a comfortable mental exercise that entertained and challenged me.

You can always crash a car, but unless you’re moving especially fast, and so long as you’re wearing your seatbelt, you’re more than likely to come out of it just fine. Maybe a sprained neck, perhaps some bruising from your knees hitting the steering wheel, but fine. Even so, learning to drive a car is incredibly stressful.

Learning to ride a motorbike was dangerous. It was dangerous and uncomfortable and tiring and freaking HARD. Your past experience with riding a bicycle actually worked against you and you had to force yourself to unlearn it. I was perched on a piece of machinery that could literally kill me if I didn’t handle it well. We spent one of our earliest hours just memorizing where the clutch and brake are. Given that the two are identical levers under each hand, it’s very easy to get them mixed up in a panic. We learned how to change gears in the middle of a turn. We learned how to make sudden changes in direction and, even though the direction of the change was random, we knew the change was coming and many of us still panicked and made mistakes.

I learned and trained on a little 50 cc engine. The machine could barely bring me up to 80km an hour, given my weight, and I still felt terrified of the power of the engine sitting raw between my legs.

I now ride a massive 1500 cc cruiser. The engine on my motorbike is literally more powerful than the engine of my car. I’m constantly aware of the amount of power I’m guiding down the road, and I’m comfortable with it. I ride it daily, when I can find a reason to. My bike is my summer vehicle. I ride it to work and back, to the grocery store and back (if I don’t need more than a backpack and two saddle bags can carry) and pretty much any where I need to go. Rain or shine. Even through hail.

And my ideal vacation is spending days and days on my bike guiding it down the road.

My question now is why can’t I be that dedicated to my writing? Why I can’t write in the dark, through snow, rain, and fog? Why I can’t accept dropping the pen on the ice and just get back up and start a new page? Why I don’t write the way I ride? My writing has the potential to take me to worlds beyond where my bike can go. So why do I find it so easy to distract myself with something else to do?

Maximum Effort means Maximum Anger

While the declaration is instructive, I’m not sure I’ve put out Maximum Effort in a long time. The last time it might have happened was on my 2012 road trip where I rode my motorbike down to Portland and back. That was a great trip, and it definitely took some effort. Not sure if it was Maximum or not.

The one time I am certain I put out Maximum Effort was back when I took my motorcycle riding course. I was working very long days at Purolator, physically exhausting days, and racing from work to get to class on time. Then I was learning to ride the bike in the dark cold March evenings where we contended with fog, snow, and patches of very dark ice.

My entire week consisted of waking up at 5am to get to work by 730 so I could inspect my truck and plan my route. Then I spent the day hauling boxes on and off my truck. I had two hours between my last delivery and my first pickup, so I inevitably found some way to get in a nap somewhere, but it was never more than an hour and it was never enough.

Right?

It sums me up so well

I would get back to the depot at around 530, having put in 10 hours, and would then have to race to McMahon stadium to start my class. The only reason I was off work that early was because I’d made special arrangements with my manager to have someone make my last few pickups. Normally I wouldn’t be back at the depot until 6 at the earliest, but my class started at 6.

The class was a total of 20 hours, 6 to 10 every night of the work week, and we needed ever minute of it. Riding a motorcycle is actually fairly easy. Riding it slow on an obstacle course with fewer than three mistakes is fucking hard. Harder when it’s dark.
I’d get home at about 1030 with just enough time to make my lunch for the following day before crashing into bed.

That was a challenging week, but I managed it. I think the only way I managed it, however, was with anger. Anger brought me to determination. I’m not sure I’m capable of any other path. Years ago when I was working out regularly the only thing that kept me going was anger. Anger at my body for wanting to quit, anger at my lungs for burning, anger at myself for being so weak.

And now I’m reluctant to be that angry with myself ever again. After this hard relationship deterioration that left me angry nearly every day I’m now weary of it.

Over the past couple of days I’ve been feeling ill, some kind of incredibly brief flu virus. One day of intense all-body joint pain with zero appetite, and a second day only half as bad. The one thing I noticed through those days was how easy it was for me to get angry at the slightest things. I was angry with sudden noises, I was angry with slow lines, I was angry with people being too happy nearby. I was angry at some of my favorite music. Clearly, I was not in my best frame of mind. Luckily for me I noticed the disproportion and managed to not act on any of it. Given I stayed home through most of it this was relatively easy.

But anger is important and appropriate at times. And I need to be able to focus it properly again. I need to be able to dedicate myself to required writing without having to resort to anger and I’m not sure that’s possible.

We are what we do. Excellence, therefore, is not a goal but a habit.
Be excellent to each other. Be excellent to yourself.
Write the good stuff. Write the bad stuff. Write the stuff.
This is the stuff.

Taking a very long ride

Took the motorbike out for a vacation a couple of weeks ago. I was firmly reminded of a few lessons I’d obviously forgotten. Primary among them was: don’t trust the weather reports.

When I left Calgary the long term forecast showed that we’d be going through a heat wave for the rest of the week with temperatures in the thirties. Based on this I decided to not take the second dry bag with my extra layers in it. I was already sweltering in the heat we had I didn’t foresee any need for more layers. And I was right, for the whole vacation… except for the last two hours.

The orange patch on my bag is a handful of shammy cloths I picked up at a gas station in an effort to make the tool kit a little less pokey.

The orange patch on my bag is a handful of shammy cloths I picked up at a gas station in an effort to make the tool kit a little less pokey.

I’d also forgotten the lesson I learned riding from Seattle to Portland and back last year: I need both bags for complete back support. The one bag by itself is big enough that I can lean back on it, but that puts me at an angle that puts a lot of my weight right on my tailbone. After a few hours of that my ass feels like it’s going to seize up permanently.

I managed to fix that a bit, eventually, by shoving my minimal toolkit into the outside pocket of the backpack. This added about an inch to the bag and pushed me forward enough to take the pressure off of my tailbone. The downside of this was that the contact point on the back became a square, fist-sized lump of metal in the center of my back. If I can just remember how that felt I’m pretty sure I’ll never forget my secondary bag again. And if that doesn’t work…

My ride back was a lot less sunny than the ride out. I skirted several storms on the way. I kept hitting the edge of rain, occasionally getting some mist on the face-plate, but escaped the majority of it. That is until just short of Banff.

Between Lake Louise and Banff I hit cold, bitter rain, and the rain kept up all the way into Calgary. By the time I got home I was soaked head to toe and chilled to the bone. The one saving grace is that I was home and could dump my cold, wet clothes and jump into the shower immediately to get warm again. It took a good twenty minutes in the hot shower. One of the side effects of being as big as I am is that my body is very slow to change temperature. In cold weather this can be a benefit as I can stay warm longer than most, but once I’m cold I’m in serious trouble because it takes that much longer to get warm again.

So… metal fist in my back and bone chilling cold and wet… both of those should remind me to never opt out of taking my additional layers with me.

Nowhere else in the world is it so easy to take a good selfie.

The ride itself was beautiful. I’m fortunate to live within a few hours’ ride of some incredibly majestic scenery. I’m a crap photographer but even I can’t take a bad photo of the places I rode through.

Which is doubly fortunate as I can’t really afford to ride anywhere right now. I was only able to ride out to Quesnel because Shane and Dianne were willing to help me get there. Without their assistance I would have been spending my vacation at home playing minecraft all day.

I did do some things right, though. I packed a couple of big bottles of water, half frozen, and took lots of breaks. I probably stopped every hour or so to drink water and stretch my legs. It turned a ten hour trip into twelve hours but it was definitely necessary to rest. Since I couldn’t afford to stop half way in a hotel I had to make the entire trip in one shot. Stretching and drinking frequently were about the only things that allowed me to do that.

And now I know I can. Better than that, if I pack my bag properly, I’ll be able to do it even better, and possibly handle a longer trip.

Okay, random bits:

I confess that one of the reasons I was able to handle 12 hours on the bike was because I wore shoes instead of my motorcycle boots. Not wise, necessarily, as that leaves my ankles unprotected and my feet rather vulnerable, but honestly… biker boots have such a heel on them that they torque my ankle into unnatural angles as I ride. I’m either going to have to save up for some cruiser pegs or some good hiking boots. Personally I’m leaning towards the hiking boots, although having both would be idea. I just wish they could produce biker boots that don’t have a heel. Any time I have to walk in my biker boots I feel incredibly guilty about enjoying watching women walking in high heels. It looks great, I know, but I can also imagine that it must be hell to walk in for any length of time. The heels I have on my boots are probably less than half an inch but I still feel like I’m risking a broken ankle walking in them. Admittedly some of that risk is due to my weight, but still… heels are stupid.

The advantage of riding in the middle of the week: No Traffic

The advantage of riding in the middle of the week: No Traffic

At one point I had a small black bear cross the road in front of me. I had plenty of time to slow down, didn’t even need to touch my brakes, but the roar of my bike downshifting into first from high speed second really spooked the little guy and he scrambled up the scree on the other side of the road like hell itself was on his heels. I felt guilty about that. He didn’t need the scare, I’m sure.

I was worried about having enough gas to make it through the Glacier National Park, but that tourist trap at Saskatchewan Crossing was a life saver. Still, not knowing for sure I decided to pack a gas can with me anyway. But I grabbed the wrong gas can. I had a new one, somewhere, that has since gone missing. I thought it was the one I was taking with me but when I decided to fill it up at Deadman Flats I found I’d grabbed the old one instead. The one missing the pouring spout. I’m glad I never had to use my reserve gas as there was no way I could have avoided a horrendous mess. But now I have a full can of gas in my left hand saddle bag an no way to safely empty it. I’m going to have to buy a new gas can again just so I can use the spout.

A page a day, day thirty-eight: Requisite to Ride

I suddenly recall a rather terrifying anecdote from my motorcycle meet-up over the weekend. It makes me just that much more confused about Americans. Texans in particular.

One of the riders at our table mentioned that he travelled a lot for work and used his travels to explore more riding opportunities. He frequently travels to San Francisco, for example, and found an excellent deal on weekend bike rentals. He found he could rent a high end, expensive Harley Davidson motorcycle for the weekend with unlimited mileage for just a few hundred dollars. This is a fantastic deal for him and he makes use of it whenever he can. He said he frequently surprises the rental clerks with the amount of miles he actually puts on their bikes as most of the usual renters only rent them long enough to take them to the beach so they can stand around looking cool.

That’s not the confusing part. People using Harley’s and their “mystique” to try and impress people is nothing new. It’s actually their entire marketing strategy. After all, it sure isn’t the durability or efficiency of their bikes.

Anyway… the fellow rider related one event where he was sent down to San Fran for a couple of weeks on a project. Through various conversations and whatnot he learned that more than half of his team were regular riders. From this he proposed to his team that they all take time on the weekend to rent bikes and explore the surrounding hills. They all agreed that it was a good idea, except for one person: the one guy from Texas.

Now from conversations with this Texan our fellow rider knew he owned more than one bike and rode quite frequently, so he was surprised and confused by the Texan’s reluctance. Asking him for a reason, however, didn’t do anything to dispel the confusion:

The Texan lamented that he didn’t have a permit to carry a gun in California so he’d had to leave his gun behind in Texas.

And he never, ever rode motorcycle unless he was packing.

Every single one of us around the table, including the fellow telling the story, wore the same baffled expression. Not one of us could figure out why a gun would be necessary for riding.

But then maybe that’s because we’re from Canada? I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.

A page a day, day twenty-eight: International Tabletop Day

I’m so exhausted and very much looking forward to going to bed. But I have to post my daily page first or I will break the chain. I’ve been doing so well I don’t want to stop. It has been such a hard few years that I really, really need a sense of accomplishment.

Did I just say that out loud? I said that out loud.

In other news…

Today was the first ever International Tabletop Day as declared by Felicia Day’s Geek and Sundry crew to commemorate the 1st anniversary of Wil Wheaton’s show “Tabletop”. The response has been insane and there are, from what I’ve heard, millions of people around the planet participating. I don’t know if that’s an exaggeration on my part, but I do know the response has been huge. I really wish I could have watched their live broadcast throughout the day, but I was in the back of the game shop.

Yes, I actually went out for this and socialized with strangers. Alone. This is a huge thing for me. You have no idea.

I went to Myth games at about noon. I packed my motorcycle saddle bag with food and drink in the form of tea, club soda, tea biscuits, and a tupperware full of grapes, cheese, and sugar snap peas. I knew I’d get hungry and I didn’t know what would be available. Plus I also knew if I brought my own food I’d be much less likely to eat junk food. And it worked.

I also shared my food.

I played a number of games, all of which I’d played before. I would have liked to have tried a couple of new games but there was a limited selection. There was a game about giant b-movie monsters fighting it out over Tokyo that I really wanted to try and may have to track down some day. The games I did get to play were still great games, however.

I first played a few games of Munchkin, which is always fun. Then I played a couple of games of Flux, which is a very random game in that just about every card you play changes the rules of the game in some way. It’s not a game for everyone as you can become very easily frustrated trying to keep track of it all. It can be quite hilarious as well, as two brothers joined our second game in the middle and one of them wound up winning on their first hand.

Much more Art than Reason

Much more Art than Reason

We followed that with a couple of games of Dixit. I really do love this game and would like to get more people to try it with me. I bought a copy last year and only managed to convince my friends to play it once. It’s a highly imaginative game that is competitive without being directly confrontational. The results of each turn are surprising, more often than not, and it definitely awards artistic creativity over rational tactics without any actual need for artistic tallent. If you’re curious about it, let me know. It works best with more players than it does with a few, and you need a minimum of three.

Finally we played a couple of games of Pandemic, which I have played a couple of times before and it is fucking tough. It’s another game well worthy of my love, though, as you are not playing against the other players, but rather all players are cooperating against the game itself. The goal is to prevent a worldwide pandemic that will wipe out civilization as we know it. Each player gets a role in the world theater, from scientist to researcher to medic and dispatcher. Each role has special abilities that can help the other players. Having played it only four times I can definitely say you are best off if you have both the medic and the dispatcher. There’s a potential set of six roles, but a maximum of four players. You’re never going to have all six roles in play and the selection of roles at the start of the game is random.

Even on the "easy" setting Pandemic is a damned tough game.

Even on the “easy” setting Pandemic is a damned tough game.

It is a TOUGH game to beat. Being very new to the game (I’d played it before but it was YEARS ago and didn’t remember the rules) we decided to go with the “easy” setting. We lost very quickly in the first game as we floundered around, learning how things worked and where the real threat was likely to come from. We won the second game but only because we lucked out on how slowly the epidemic cards showed up. We still had a few tense moments.

And that is the other thing about the game. It can really get you worked up, more than any competitive game I’ve ever played. Partly because it’s an exciting game with lots of tension, but also partly (in my opinion) because you are all able to get worked up TOGETHER without anyone feeling they’re being ganged up on and without any one person coming out appearing to be a poor winner.

Blank, good to the last drop. Answer: Elf Cum

Cards Against Humanity: not your family friendly kind of game.

Lastly, Mav and Tony invited me over for dinner where I got to gorge myself on some fantastic barbecued pork, after which we played a game of Cards Against Humanity. They already have two expansion packs mixed into their set with the third expansion ordered and on it’s way. We finally had to call the game after 10pm because we were all exhausted. It was a great time as always, though, and well within the spirit of the day.

The only game I won all day was the second Pandemic game, and with that game you can only win if everyone wins. I was never the sole victor in anything I played, and I had a fantastic time all day long.

I also spent the day on my motorbike, going from place to place, which was the cherry on the top. It’s still rather cold out there (definitely felt colder than the reported four degrees outside on my midnight right home) but the chill is worth the feeling of the engine between my legs and the wheels on the road.

All in all I’d have to say to day was a fantastic day.

A page a day, day twenty four: unleash the bike?

A couple of months ago I had to move my motorbike from my spot in the parking lot behind my building because roofers needed the entire parking lot for their trucks. It was only pure luck that I found out I needed to move it in the first place. The building management company posted a notice on the back door about everyone having to move their vehicles before the roofing company came in. They wanted the cars moved out by Thursday.

I read the notice Wednesday evening, and only managed to see it because Dianne and I had decided to go out for coffee that evening. Had we not done so my bike would have been towed without warning. They didn’t post the notice ANYWHERE else in the building, not even the front door. They just naturally assumed people would read the notice when they went to use their cars. Except not everyone USES their cars during the week, especially those tenants who work downtown! And of course I only ever park out front because my bike is using my spot!

Anyway… Dianne helped me to move my bike out of the way in the morning. We conferred with the roofers and they assured me that if I moved my bike out of the main parking lot and against the fence it would be far enough out of their way to not be a problem. So we did, and there it has sat since.

As it turns out, this is now a good thing.

And there it will sit until the thaw in June

And there it will sit until the thaw in June

The parking lot for my building is on the north side. It remains in the shade all day until well into May. With Calgary’s natural weather pattern of thaw-snow-freeze, and our building managers’ standard snow removal service that doesn’t do anything beyond the sidewalk in front of our building, the parking lot becomes a solid block of ice that lasts into June.

Last spring this was a huge problem for me because I needed the spot clear of ice before I could bring my bike out of storage and park it there. This spring it was going to become and even worse problem because my bike had been parked there all winter and wasn’t going to be able to be ridden at all until I could get the ice cleared.

Except we moved the bike already, for the roofers, and on that morning they’d already spilled a huge amount of roofing gravel all over the place so we had a fair bit of traction to work with. Now, with the recent warm weather, the alleyway is pretty much dry, including that section along the fence where my bike is parked.

With Dianne’s last visit I picked up a temporary parking pass for her. While I was in the Parking Authority office I asked if it was possible to get a parking pass for a motorbike. The clerk said it was, but that it would be difficult for me to attach it somewhere it could be seen. I explained that my bike has a large wind screen on the front and asked if attaching it to that would bee acceptable. She readily agreed that it would.

So… I have applied for a parking pass for my bike. I’m allowed two before I have to pay extra, so this one is as free (or rather “included in my existing civic taxes”) as the other one. I’ll probably pick it up Thursday morning and, with luck and good weather, should be riding by the weekend.

Before April.

You have no idea how happy this idea makes me.

 

A page a day, day four

As an active part of shipping items to foreign countries I like to throw their address into Google maps to see if it can make sense of what they’ve given us. The vast majority of the time it comes up with a simple point reference on a map and I can be assured that the address does indeed exist.

On occasion, when an order gets lost in the mail and the customer is demanding we re-ship the entire order I will return to google to verify their address again… then I’ll zoom down into street view and have a look around. Then, if they’re a particularly quarrelsome customer, I will have a little conversation in my head:

“Yes, sir, we did re-ship your order. Yes, we re-shipped it to the address you verified. And may I say it’s a lovely building you live in. Those archways are new, aren’t they? That red car out front, is that yours?

Yes, I know where you live.”

I don’t do that, of course, but the temptation is there. People are so much more polite in person, and even more so when they realize you know where they live.

Still more when they know what I look like. It has been suggested a number of times that invoices might get paid quicker if my photo was attached to each e-mail that was sent out.

“This sincere gentleman would like to remind you that your 30 day invoices have now come due. If payment has already been arranged please disregard this threatening expression.”

We’re having snow again here in Calgary. I keep forgetting that March is often our heaviest month for snow. It’s closest competitor is the long weekend in May. People love to go camping over the long weekend in May. Crazy people.

I took my motorcycle riding classes in March of ‘07. I got to learn to ride in the dark bundled up in layers with patches of ice. The first time I ever laid a bike down was because I took a turn too wide and hit a frozen puddle. At least it wasn’t my bike. After 20 hours of intense training in freezing conditions every other day of riding has been a joy. Three weeks later, in the middle of April, I rode my bike in to my motorcycle mechanics class. I was navigating through drifts of gravel at every major intersection. These lessons, rather than giving me an increased sense of security, gave me instead a heightened awareness of vulnerability. I was keenly aware of just how shifty my traction was on the road and I never forgot that slight feeling of terror.

I’m always just slightly “off” when it comes to interacting with the more masculine members of my gender. Having grown up without any significant or consistent male influence in my life I’ve grown up with a rather feminine attitude. This often confuses “real men” who try to strike up typical conversations with me, and learning how to ride and maintain my motorbike was no exception. I can’t provide exact examples of what I said that didn’t “work” for them, I can only remember their slightly confused or baffled expressions. I definitely wasn’t what they were expecting.

I also experienced a weird sort of counter-sexism. With the women in the class my mechanics instructor was very patient and detailed, going through things step-by-step. With me… it’s like he automatically assumed I’d already know the basics and just rattled off the steps in point form like I should be able to figure it out myself.

So it’s a damned good thing I own a bike that requires minimal maintenance, because that’s all I know.

Finally dreaming again

I had a dream last night, which I’m much relieved about. I’ve been fighting a severe cold for the past few weeks and one of the biggest detriments to being unable to breathe is being unable to sleep properly, and thus not dreaming. Since I’ve gotten used to my cpap machine I’ve rather enjoyed the resurgence of dreaming and have taken to gauging my ongoing mental state by them.

Work stress dreams always revolve around returning to my old job at the University and not knowing what to do. I suspect my mind picks that job as a minor defensive move because I always end up reminding myself that, regardless of the complexity of the task there had always been a manual to follow. This allows me to calm myself down and regain control of the dream.

Life stress often results in dreams about having to share living space or struggling with having to navigate through either very convoluted parking lots, cityscapes, or just buildings in general. The shared living space always involves rooms with gaping walls and showers with no privacy whatsoever. Open bathrooms that only afford limited privacy with opaque shower curtains figure prominently. Obviously my personal  and being able to figure out where Ian and what i.e. doing are huge buttons for me.

Last night’s dream was a new take on desires for personal freedom. In my dream the snow had melted just enough that I thought I could navigate the roads with minimal risk. I had very definite plans to hit the road on my motorbike to ride someplace hot and dry.

Apparently my dreams of freedom are becoming literal.

The only difference being, with the real world, you ultimately have to come back. In my dream I had no such intention. It was a very solid feeling of “point south and go”.

I guess that’s what makes it a dream.

Some people really are out to kill me

The trip was a trial, a test, something to endure even as it was something to enjoy, and I’m told by a certain someone that I shouldn’t minimize the accomplishment. Here’s a link to my overall route.

I rode for several hours on roads. The hardest part of riding was dealing with the aching groin muscles. Some pain medication helped deal with that. The next hardest part with riding was, naturally, dealing with the other drivers. 99.999 percent of the drivers out on the road with me were reasonably competent and respectful.

A few, however, tried to kill me.

Number two on the list of “idiots out on the road with the sole purpose of killing me” was the soccer mom in the minivan who nearly side swiped me off of the I-5. I would have given her the finger but she never so much as glanced my direction. Hence my brush with death.

Number one on the list of “idiots out on the road with the sole purpose of killing me” was the redneck asshole with the black (of course) penis compensating dual wheel truck who decided his schedule was far more important than anybody’s life when he chose to pass a semi trailer truck going around a blind corner. He and I nearly had a meeting of the minds at a combined speed well in excess of 200 kph. Thankfully he was gracious enough to attempt this murderous move on a road that still afforded me a shoulder to dodge onto.

Had I caught his license plate I would have hunted him down and kicked the ever loving shit out of him. No jury in the world would have convicted me. Fortunately for him I didn’t even have enough time to get a good look at his face. I was too busy dodging his grill.

I can only hope that, when his idiocy finally kills someone, it only kills him.

*deep breath*

Your mission, should you choose to accept it...

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to survive the next corner. Good luck. This road will self destruct in five minutes.

The rest of the trip was … well, marvelous, for the most part. It was wonderful when I was visiting people, and it was interesting when I was seeing new sights, but I have to confess that taking a vacation alone is a wholely new experience and, quite honestly, it can be a little lonely.

Not that there aren’t advantages.

For one thing, there was never really any need to coordinate with others other than occasionally meeting up. I wasn’t ever holding anyone up, or left sitting and waiting. I didn’t have to worry about cutting into anyone else’s enjoyment with my lazy, tranquil approach to free time. I could just be me.

The problem with that is that “me” is generally a follower, not an initiator. Deciding what to do with my time was always the biggest challenge for me, mentally. And while I did enjoy everything I did, I was always worried I was missing out on something better. But then that’s nothing new. I’m sure I’ll be struggling with that to my grave.

However… I did it. I took the trip. It was a lot of work, it was a lot of effort, and it was a very long trip just to prove to myself that I could. But now I know. I know I can ride for over 3,500 kilometers and make it home safe. Next time won’t be an internal debate on whether or not I can, but rather a longer debate on where to go next.

And that debate starts now.

Finding #1: major roadways are, of course, the quickest way to get from point A to point B. However, they are not the “best” way to get to where you’re going when the goal isn’t speed but rather fun.

Finding #2: I’m terrible at making myself have fun along the way. True, I

Welcome to the rest stop. Take your helmet off, stay awhile.

Welcome to the rest stop. Take your helmet off, stay awhile.

succeeded in focusing on the journey rather than the destination, but each time I pulled over for a stop the itch to get moving again eventually overwhelmed me. I don’t think I ever stayed at any rest stop for more than five minutes unless I was a) stopping to eat or b) so incredibly sore that I had to walk it off until the pain ebbed. Clearly I need to learn to enjoy the stops more. I need to take more photos (and find out why my phone camera keeps deciding to default back to 800 x 600 when I clearly set it to the max resolution last time) and I need to do something with the other time there. I brought my pipe and tobacco along with the intent of enjoying it at one or more stops along the way, but I kept forgetting about it until I was unpacking at the hotel.

I should also be taking notes along the way. I need to keep a notepad handy at each stop to give me topics to write on when I’ve got more time.

I often considered naps but couldn’t bring myself to do it on the side of the road. I’ve napped against trees in the past and innevitably end up with something going down the neck of my shirt. I’m not the outdoors type.

Finding #3: Earplugs are essential. You might think it’s because of how loud my bike is, and I admit it is loud, but no it’s because of the steady wind noise past and through my helmet. I forgot to put earplugs in a few times and always wound up with ringing ears afterward. Once the ringing was bad enough to carry on well into the night. I would definitely risk hearing loss if I didn’t use earplugs.

WITH earplugs I can also control the airflow through my helmet. I can open the visor a crack to let air stream through, which really helps to keep my head cool. Without earplugs the noise is horendous and I can only ride with my visor completely closed.

Finding #4: I miss music. Driving in a car, especially alone, I fill the hours with a constant stream of music. I’ve tried that with the motorbike but I suspect that unless I’m willing to spend more than the cost of a new iPod on the earbuds the term “noise cancelling” is about as arbitrary as “two scoops”. The only way I’ve ever been able to ride with music has been to have the volume up loud enough to drown out the road noise. Definitely counter-productive.

I did bring my iPod with me, but after six hours of earplugs on the road and the prospect of earplugs while I sleep the thought of puting ear buds in my ears was considerably less than appealing.

Damn, if I’d taken more notes I could do more writing about the trip and less about the mechanics of the trip.

After my fiasco of picking motels along the way I developed a new tactic of booking a new place before I left the old. Dianne helped me out by introducing me to Hotwire, a service that looks for hotel deals for you. It worked brilliantly in the states but was rather lacking in Canada. Still, after the desperate search that wound me up at the Sunset Inn, it was a definite improvement.

Hotwire got me a room near the SeaTac airport just south of Seattle. It was an excellent location. Gorgeous room with high ceilings and blessedly firm bed. The hotel was located right on the old highway 99 which took me directly into the heart of Seattle with hardly any traffic at all. I drove straight to the hotel, unloaded all my stuff, took a short nap, then took a leisurely ride straight to Pike Place and all the touristy stuff you can shake a stick at.

The highway was ancient, defined by old routes laid on top of one another, and wound very chaotically along the coast and through numerous industrial sections. I had to pay close attention to ever sign as the road merged with three other highways at random moments and then, just as randomly, split off again. Once I was actually in downtown Seattle I was riding along a raised roadway about three floors above ground level. It was slightly disconcerting to be looking into third floor office windows flickering past you at 40 mph no more than ten feet from you.

I lucked out on an exit into the Pike Place Market almost by accident. I was enjoying the view of the bay and the piers so much I didn’t notice that my lane was about to end until it started to split off into an exit. By the time I realized where I was going I was already commited. Luckily for me it dumped me out right at the northernmost tip of the Market and I found a parking spot in a matter of minutes.

I developed a system for exploring that worked more on good luck and relatively decent folk than it did on any kind of preparation or caution. I packed my walking shoes in a saddlebag along with my shoulder bag and hat (a hat that the salesperson assured me was non-crush-able but is now hopelessly creased by being packed into a saddlebag and will forever now be relegated to bike hat duty). When I parked my bike I switched footwear, pulled out my bag and hat, and packed my boots into one saddlebag and my motorcycle jacket into the other. My gloves went into my helmet and the helmet went onto the seat rest. When I paid for my parking I was given a receipt that instructed me to keep it visible in the windshield. I wound up tucking it under a strap that fits across the passenger seat of the bike. Nothing was locked or otherwise secured. The only reason I didn’t lose any of it was because nobody decided to take it.

Which means either people are relatively decent and won’t rob you blind needlessly… or else robbers looked at the size of my gear and decided it was wiser to err on the side of caution. Or some blending of the two.

I wasn’t completely trusting, however. I left nothing of irreplaceable value with the bike. I kept all my keys, my wallet, and of course my passport on me at all times. Anything else that could have been stolen could have been replaced, in theory. It would have been pricey and annoying, but certainly not the end of th world.

Not my picture. Not sure why I didn´t take one myself.

Not my picture. Not sure why I didn´t take one myself.

Pike Place Market was a pleasant and busy place. I should have taken pictures. I’m really not sure why I didn’t. I think I was too busy dealing with the crowd, trying to avoid stepping on anyone.

I walked for several hours. I ate lunch at some seafood place (and had the roast beef, go me) and spent the rest of my afternoon trying to decide on where I might stop for coffee. I eventually came to realize a couple of things: not all coffee shops were open past dinner, and Pike Place itelf pretty much shuts down at 6pm. There were still several hours of dailight left and shops were already locked up tight. I eventually opted for some coffee bean ice cream instead, enjoying it in the park with a view of the bay.

I returned to my bike to find that, not only was it not ticketed or towed, but all of my belongings were still untouched. I counted it as a win.

That should hold it, right?

That should hold it, right?

The ride back on highway 99 was fairly uneventful, but at some point my mind must have wandered but I suddenly found myself merging onto the I-5. It came as a complete surprise. Luckily I aleady knew how to get to my hotel from the I-5 so I just went with it.

The SeaTac hotel was such a nice place I decided to stay an extra day. The desire to stay in a nice room combined with a bad perception shift of riding times gave me the idea that I’d keep my room booked at SeaTac and just ride down to Portland for the day.

Two things failed to occur to me: 1) Seattle to Portland is pretty much the same as Calgary to Edmonton, nearly three hours in steady traffic. 2) I’d be doing the ride without my usual gear, which meant I would be missing my incredibly helpful backrest formed out of my two water proof bags full of clothes. I got a direct lesson of just how much having a back rest improves my ride. By the time I made it back to my hotel the combined 6 hours of riding had my tailbone in agony. Never again.

Portland is a wonderful city and I really wish I had decided to get a room there instead. The five hours I spent visiting there really weren’t enough.

I met up with a lady I’d encountered on a social web site of mutual interest. We had chatted across the internet a few times a long time ago. We had lamented at the time that it was unfortunate we lived so far apart as we were a good match, socially. I pinged her out of the blue the day before I rode to Portland to find out if she was interested in a couple of hours of coffee. She was and we did. Conversation varied widely from green energy to travel to unfortunate habits. After coffee and dinner with her I set about exploring Powell’s Books for about an hour.

If you know anything about Powell’s Books you’ll know that an hour is nowhere near enough time. I’m not sure you could even walk the full range of the building in just an hour. I stuck with the fantasy and sci-fi section as I was quickly becoming overwhelmed as soon as I’d entered the doors and knew I’d run out of time before buying something if I didn’t narrow my tour at the outset.

They not only provide you with a map of the building as you enter but they also provide stacks of comment cards for customers who want to offer their own reviews of the books on the shelves. There were the usual front shelves of popular books, shelves of books on sale, and books with recommendations and reviews written by staff. There were also shelves of signed books and shelves of customer recommended books.

Unable to make an informed decision without breaking my own personal travel schedule I found myself mired in the Comic Book aisle drooling over all the tradebacks. I was impressed to discover the section was not sorted by author or title but instead by character or group. A much more sensible system for comic books. After all, if you’re interested in Spiderman you’re not going to be able to find all his comics if they’re organized by title. From Amazing to Ultimate the title of Spiderman comics runs just about the length of the alphabet. Much more sensible to just put them all together under the grouping of “Spiderman”.

I picked out a couple of TBs from the Avengers section, both for a relatively new (to me) title of Avengers Academy. I figured a couple of TBs was about the most I could wedge into my luggae without having to throw something else out first.

I parked in Portland the same way I’d parked in Seattle: with all my gear shoved into my saddlebags, my helmet on the back of my seat, and the parking pass tucked under the strap of my passenger seat. Once again I returned to my bike to find it was entirely untouched.

I’m not sure how long that’s going to work for me. I acknowledge that I need to come up with a better system.

More later…