The Actions of Wild Animals and Trained Humans

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There are so many reasons I ride a motorcycle. I don’t want to sound like a broken record but transportation and recreation are a start. The side benefits include a lower heart rate, clearer head and a prettier smile every time I climb off after a ride. Most benefits are hard to explain but I think you get the picture. I don’t ride to save gas but this too is a benefit, but I’m not bragging.

With all that’s good coming from riding motorcycles, there will always be a down side. Yes, wild animals can be a part of my daily routine. I’m not upset about it because I know living in a rural area, I’m traveling through their natural habitat. They don’t live by the same rules we humans do, so with that I give them a little latitude. The only wild thing a barbwire fence will keep off the road is a Wal-Mart bag… Deer, opossums and raccoons can be cute until they become obstacles in the road. Don’t they know I’m looking at the sunrise?

The only wild  thing a barbwire fence will keep off the road is a Wal-Mart bag…

But this morning’s commute, like so many days before, has a danger I don’t talk about much. As most of my 23 mile ride to work is rural two-lane highway my attention is always on those sweet furry friends that live in the country. About a mile from work, just on the edge of town, everything changes for the worse. At the junction of highways 77 and I-70 lies something more beastly than any four-legged animal. Traffic. In a span of less than an eighth-mile I deal with more cars pulling out in front of me than I care to talk about. Every day. Most don’t stop at all, some use the turning lane as a onramp to merge onto highway 77 exiting I-70 and none of them see me. Even though I have the right-of-way, they look right through me. Obviously, the desire to pull out in front of me is much too strong for them to stop to let me pass safely. I have given the “angry bird morning wave” to many.

This morning was a close one. Believe me, it takes a lot to even bring it up because history shows me it will happen time and time again. I can handle the drivers that don’t stop because they have already revealed their intentions. It’s the driver who stops and then rolls forward and stops again, that always has me worried. The driver this morning was unpredictable. After I had already slowed down, a sudden movement from him caused me to lock up my back brake causing a slight fishtail, followed with a few wild hand gestures and a mouth full of bad words. For a brief second I was ready to kick his ass. In fact, I’m still ready. After getting through the danger zone, heart racing and almost to work, I was inspired to write this.

So why do I ride? That’s a great question with an ever-evolving answer.

So why do I ride? That’s a great question with an ever-evolving answer. I lost my son-in-law Chanse to an inattentive driver this year. To say I’m hyper-sensitive to this very traffic situation is an understatement. Kicking this guys ass won’t solve anything but bringing awareness to it will. I can’t predict the actions of wild animals or trained humans but I can become a better rider and more importantly a better driver. To anyone who rides just remember, we are invisible. Educate yourself through the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and check into the Motorcycle Industry Council for even more information. And gear up for every ride. Always expect the unexpected, because it’s a jungle out their whether its rural or urban, so be prepared.

Love you Chanse!

Brake Time

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It’s not often I ride after dark but for the last month or so I have been riding the roads of rural Kansas just before the sun has set completely. For all of those obvious reasons that riding at this hour presents, it is kind of nice to roll down the road with my headlight bouncing of the tarmac as my eyes dance side-to-side looking for those pesky critters that also enjoy coming out at night.

Keeping my speed a little below the posted limit on one particular night, I was soon passed by a car. This isn’t a bad thing as I don’t mind a vehicle running interference for me when I’m unsure if I will be greeted by one of nature’s finest. As I followed along behind my new best friend, I allowed myself to relax a little and let myself look around at the clouds as the moonlight reflected off the edges. A beautiful night for sure, and a guy could easily get used o this.

A couple of miles later I noticed the car in front of me tap his brakes. His brake lights caught my attention and I immediately knew based on my familiarity of the road, he was braking for a deer. But this is what I find most interesting about the driver in front of me; he not only tapped his brakes, but he did so multiple times letting me know that there was not only a deer in the road but a couple more waiting to cross. All of this information came through his brake lights. I thought to myself the person driving the car in front of me is surely a biker. I too have flashed my brake lights letting those behind me know of any dangers ahead. I’m sure this isn’t uncommon, but on this given night on this particular road the driver gave me a gift. Three more deer just stepping onto the road, no big hurry and not surprised of the motorcyclist coming up on them.

 I’m also known for my moves, but that is a completely different subject and besides it was the ’80’s.

Whether or not my friend in the car actually rides motorcycles or not, it’s nice to know that someone still thinks about the safety of others on the road. I had plenty of time to slow down and be prepared for any sudden moves that deer are known for. I’m also known for my moves, but that is a completely different subject and besides it was the ’80’s.

There are so many unwritten rules of the road. Some of these rules need to be written down and this is one of them. It’s the little things that can be so beneficial to the safety and well-being of others – especially motorcyclists.

Expect the Unexpected

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Okay, call me gun-shy. A few days ago I had a close encounter with a doe standing on the road in the exact same spot where a previous close encounter happened almost a year ago to the day. Two close encounters in the same spot with a deer a year apart. Who would have thunk it? The first was “Motorcycle Crossing” and the second was “A Second Either Way” if you’re curious.

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Well, on this particularly foggy morning commute on my motorcycle, I was understandably cautious. Typically, when riding in fog your windshield and face shield will fog up as well. This morning was no different as my windshield was completely fogged over and the face shield on my Torc helmet was lifted to better see. It’s one thing as a rider to be on the lookout for anything that might stop my forward progress, but it’s also important to see and be seen.

So I set out on my journey in hopes of getting to work unscathed. The fog wasn’t too bad at first but I knew going into Skiddy, which falls into a valley, it would become worse. As I started my decent I saw a skunk scooting across the road and a second later realized his defense mechanism was in perfect working order. He must have seen me coming. Feeling good about being cautious, I’m only about an 1/8 of a mile from the curve that is a known deer hangout. As I enter the curve I see a deer standing in the ditch by the trees. Not again! It’s silhouette poised to leap in my direction, I maintained my nerves of steel and continued into the face of danger. As I rounded the curve, fully prepared for what may come, I realized the deer was nothing more than a combination of tree branches and bushes in the shape of a deer and that either the deer or the fog were playing tricks on me. Relieved, I turned the throttle and rode on. But now my eyes are seeing things in the fog that may or may not be there.

As I left Skiddy I’m sure I saw Popeye standing on the side of the road. I can’t be sure, but it sure looked like him. Further down the road I saw a herd of buffalo standing by the fence, but they were pretending to be cattle. I’m not crazy, I saw buffalo. It’s kind of like looking at the clouds and seeing shapes of animals and characters. The only difference here? If I see Snoopy in the clouds he isn’t going to jump out of the ditch in front of me.

A Second Either Way

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Well, it was bound to happen again I guess. I’m speaking of another close call with a deer on my chilly ride to work this morning. Almost a year to the day I wrote about how a deer stepped out of the ditch and stopped suddenly before crossing (read; “Motorcycle Crossing”) as I was rounding the first curve in Skiddy on my way to work. Close enough to touch (or so it seemed) I remained calm and continued on. What this deer did after I passed is unknown, but I’m sure she was thinking those damn motorcycles are dangerous to her health.

I don’t know if we motorcyclists are just oblivious to the dangers of riding or if it’s the acceptance of those dangers that keeps us riding. Surely a close call, and I mean close call, with any deer or car would stop me from riding a bike. But close calls are a part of riding and quite frankly, the deer reminded me of this. I’m not saying it didn’t startle me. But at that exact moment when I came around the corner and saw her standing there on the road, several things went through my head in a very short amount of time. But not once did I think I was going down. Chop the throttle? Apply the brakes? Swerve? Scream? I did none of that. In fact if you could have seen the look on my face I probably showed no emotion. Nerves of steel? Of course not, but it happened so fast there was little time for panic. I can’t speak for the deer.

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how risky motorcycling can be. If I thought about it like that it would take the fun right out of riding. When something like this happens, (fewer times with deer, more often with cars) it shows me I’m living in the moment – and this moment only took about a half a second. Once it’s over, it’s down the road until the next close call happens. Not if, but when.

I’m not sure if this was the same deer or not, but they were both wearing similar fur coats. It did happen in the exact same place as before and if she is anything like me we’re both creatures of habit. As long as her and her friends make a habit of staying out of my way, I’ll do my best not to hit her and ruining both of our mornings. So after I passed her and proceeded to work I realized how close this close call was. A second either way could have yielded different results and I thought to myself how many times in our lives do we have these encounters and don’t even realize it. Whether we ride motorcycles or not, life is full of “a second either way.” So why worry?

I ride for that feeling of complete vulnerability to my surroundings. If this deer and I had met any other way (read collision) I might think otherwise. But part of the experience of riding is being on the edge of out-of-control with a few obstacles thrown in for good measure. So here’s to our anniversary and I hope we don’t meet again.

Motorcycle Crossing

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I love riding this time of year. Early fall, cool in the mornings, and perfect when you ride home. This morning’s ride to work was just that. I had my leather jacket on, knowing that at 49 degrees on the ride in, it would not be needed this afternoon on the way home. About six miles from home the road drops into a valley where the small community of Skiddy resides, and of course where the temperature drops what seems to be about 10 degrees. It’s also a known hangout for deer. You cross two bridges over the same creek with trees lining the banks, so I guess from a deer’s perspective it makes a great place to jump from the ditches and scare us folks on motorcycles.

Every day you swing a leg over the seat of a motorcycle, you take a chance. There isn’t a day goes by that a car doesn’t pull out in front of me without the driver looking my way – it’s going to happen, so I fully expect it. Deer on the other hand, have an element of surprise that humans posses but rarely use. Deer usually come to work semi-camouflaged to their surroundings, aren’t going to have a cell phone up to their head and they do their best work anywhere but in an intersection. Humans are usually confined to pavement and as long as your head is on a swivel, they are predictable.

This morning as the sun was coming up but yet to crest the horizon, I dropped into the valley crossing the first bridge. After the bridge there is a gradual curve to the left that can be taken without slowing down and this morning wasn’t going to be any different. Once I was committed into the curve, out of the corner of my good eye I realized a doe was ignoring the Motorcycle Crossing sign. She was stepping up onto the road from the ditch to my left wearing a stunning brown fur coat (like I said, the temperature feels about 10 degrees cooler when you drop down through Skiddy, so a coat was expected). Traveling at about 50 miles per hour and well into to the curve, I had only a split-second to react to the situation as it presented itself. My history with deer indicates an unpredictable jump out of the ditch onto the road or they are already standing there, statuesque, on the road staring directly into my headlight. This doe was just casually stepping onto the road as if waiting on a school bus, and as I rounded the curve our eyes met – hers big and brown, mine wide open. Her head moved, following me and watching to see what I was going to do next, mine doing the same thing, waiting for the inevitable to happen. Had I reached out with my left hand I felt like I could have touched her, but I’m sure she was a littler further away than that. Too close for me either way.

I accept the risk of riding motorcycles, and in a split-second this situation could have gone from a close call to call an ambulance. Remaining composed, I didn’t slow down or panic, but rather accepted whatever decision this deer was going to make. It’s amazing how fast you can think when faced with a situation involving many different factors, hoping for the best, and the only control you have is your own actions. I don’t know what the doe was thinking, but I’m sure she was just as surprised as I was.

Just like that it was over with. It all ended well and I made it to work without a scratch. As a daily occurrence, a car pulled off the exit ramp of I-70, didn’t stop at the stop sign or look my way – barely a close call but I knew it was going to happen so there were no surprises. At least the deer saw me.