The Way It Should Be

It’s odd really, to be sitting here typing out a blog that is so long overdue. It’s been a busy year with work, large projects and a constant sense of urgency to get things done. Even with this punching me in the face every day I have still managed about 20,000 miles on my motorcycle. Mostly a daily commute but also some backroads and a quick trip to Sturgis a couple of weeks before the annual Motorcycle Rally. That trip was weird, with 2200 miles and a total of seven face-to-face conversations with two of those being in Kansas. It was a good ride with lots of time to duck some of those punches to the face I’ve felt most of the year.

I’ve had lots of great experiences going to Sturgis for the Rally, and although the memories can run together, some of them stand out as clear as if it were just this year. The ride there and back, the people you meet along the way, and the conversations you have with those you will never meet again give you this sense of how it’s the people we bump into in our lifetime that can have the biggest impact in any given situation. Interactions with our fellow human beings is still one of my favorite parts of riding a motorcycle. And even as I like to ride either alone or with very few others, I find it’s those brief moments of fellowship along with the interesting stories people will tell you, that make any trip memorable.

Coming back from this trip to South Dakota, I could see as I approached Grand Island Nebraska, I would eventually run into this storm that was building across North Central Kansas. What ride through several states doesn’t end with a crescendo? I have ridden in many rain storms and I travel with a rainsuit at the ready, so this wasn’t that big of deal. South of York Nebraska it was clear to me I would get my chance to pull my rainsuit out to see if it fits. If any of you read my blogs from my previous trips, you will know my history of the ever-shrinking-it-must-have-been-put-away-wet rainsuit. Well, this one still fits.

If any of you read my blogs from my previous trips, you will know my history of the ever-shrinking-it-must-have-been-put-away-wet rainsuit. Well, this one still fits.

As I hopped around pulling it on over my boots, I could feel the rain coming. Within a mile after getting back on the road the rain came and it wasn’t messing around. It hit and hit hard. By my rain gauge that I keep conveniently inside my head, this is at least the second or third worst rain I’ve ridden in. As cars were slowing down or pulling over, I kept pushing through. Yes I know, pulling over would have been the wise thing to do, but… Within a few miles it was clear I wasn’t going to ride out of this without a fight, so I turned my heated grips up a notch and titled my head down.

Once I settled in to a water-filled groove, I knew this was going to be okay. I noticed another rider heading in the opposite direction and quickly realised how lucky I was to be prepared. He wasn’t. I felt sorry for him because I know how miserable it can be. I did have a few cars pass me but mostly I would pass them. I’m sure I was an odd sight but let’s be real, I’m an odd sight regardless. I did notice a white truck from Louisiana that kept hovering around – first following me then passing me only for me to pass again. I sensed visibility at times affected their designated position on the road, but just make up your mind fer-cryin’-outloud.

When the rain subsided around Belleville Kansas, I decided to ride on to Concordia where I would need gas. This gave my rainsuit a chance to dry off before putting it back in it’s bag. It was a good ride from Belleville to Concordia as the skies were clearing and the temperature started warming back up. Another successful ride in the rain and I will be able to tell this story for days and weeks to come. Embellished of course.

As I pulled into the gas station and climbed of my GS1150 the white pickup from Louisiana pulled up to the pump next to me. As I gracefully struggled getting my foot out of my pant leg the woman in the passenger seat came over and asked if I was okay. She and her husband intentionally followed me to make sure I was going to be alright. She asked me several questions about the dangers of riding in this type of rain and what I would have done if it started to hail? Before I could answer, her husband also walked over and fired off several concerns as I stripped off my suit. I explained how an experienced rider like me who’s no-fear attitude towards adverse conditions, my nerves of steel and a perfectly fitted rain suit could get me through anything. Along with my perfect smile and full head of hair of course.

I explained how an experienced rider like me who’s no-fear attitude towards adverse conditions, my nerves of steel and a perfectly fitted rain suit could get me through anything. Along with my perfect smile and full head of hair of course.

What a beautiful moment this was. Perfect strangers concerned for someone they didn’t know who was in a very vulnerable situation. You know, like it should be. And even more so, they were concerned for ME. I thanked them for worrying and wished them safe travels back to their home state. I’m telling you, it’s the people that make this short time we have on earth a beautiful thing.

Weather Or Not To Ride

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It’s funny, winter comes around about the same time every year. We even have the early warning system derived from trees shedding their leaves. I know it isn’t an alarm or flashing lights but these leaves need to fall a little louder to the ground. They pile up and blow around signaling the coming of winter, but somehow it goes unnoticed to the motorcyclist in me. It’s this time of year when cold, blustery days start creeping in with excited weathermen and women telling us to be prepared. Even the dedicated weather channels start airing episodes depicting blizzards and freezing rain and the cause and effects of temperature change.

Cold temps can be tough enough to ride in, but when you just add water, in the form of rain sleet and snow, it brings us to a parked bike and a closet full of gear.

But the one detail left coming from the lips of said meteorologists is the affect is has on those of us who ride motorcycles. Cold temps can be tough enough to ride in, but when you just add water, in the form of rain sleet and snow, it brings us to a parked bike and a closet full of gear. Not to mention all the hopes and dreams of someday riding again. It just didn’t sound right to say “with the wind blowing through my hair again.”

So how do you break the bad news to a guy like me that the weather will make it dangerous to ride? First and foremost, don’t sound excited that bad weather is coming. This may be your line of work and I know at times it can be boring, but I like boring. Boring lets me get outside to ride. Secondly, be honest. Tell me it’s coming but give me hope. Hope that one day the sun will shine and the temperature will be above 20 degrees. And thirdly, be accurate. There is no honor in telling me lies. I know it’s hard to predict the weather but if we combine the room full of radar and computer programs you have at work with maybe a peak out the window we might get it right. Let’s recap – contain your excitement, be honest with me and be accurate.

One more thing, let’s get our local meteorologists interested in motorcycling. Maybe this will take the sting out of the cold weather forecast. At least then I would know we were in this together.

My Little Piece of Asphalt

 

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As I sit here looking out the window at the rain falling, I have to ask myself why I didn’t ride to work today. I won’t melt, right? Although the high temperature today will be around 50 degrees, the rain just makes you feel colder. But as I’ve said before, I ride motorcycles so why not today? After all, I have all the gear I need for days just like this.

I believe riding bikes differs from driving a car in one particular way; There is a certain amount of mental preparedness that goes into riding a motorcycle. Some days we can’t wait to ride, other days we just do it without thinking as it comes natural, and then there are days when we have to “feel” it. Today, I didn’t feel it. Mentally I wasn’t prepared to get suited up and ride in.

One obvious downside to riding on a day like today is your bike gets filthy. Not just dirty, but the kind of grime that takes hours to clean. I’m okay with that and it usually doesn’t bother me knowing I’ll have some time invested in getting the bike back to its shiny self.

It comes back to just not feeling like I should be out there amongst the traffic, fighting for my little piece of asphalt in a world full of pavement-hogs. Did I make the right decision? Yes. Do I wish after getting to work I would have ridden? Yes. Tomorrow is a new day and I’m promised by the local weatherman it will be sunny. I’m holding him to it.

Some of my best and most memorable rides have been in the rain. Warm rains and even some that weren’t so warm have followed me to my destination. I don’t know what it is about riding down the highway in the rain, looking at the motorists looking at me like I’m crazy, dry (mostly) and comfortable with little concern about the weather at all. We spend a lot of time avoiding the rain whether we’re just walking outside or planning for a ride that maybe we should just relax and enjoy it. After all it’s only water and we won’t melt – or so I’m told.

Riding in the rain isn’t for everyone and especially in the fall when the temperature can change things up. For a guy who didn’t ride in today, just listen to me. I should have taken my own advice and put my rain gear on and sucked it up. I ride motorcycles, remember?

Running Out of Rain

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If you could have heard the song playing in my helmet on my rainy ride to work this morning, it would have sounded like a broken record skipping along repeating the same verse over and over. All too often we bikers get something stuck in that helmet of ours and it takes miles to shake it loose. I know it’s not that unusual to be riding down the road taking in the sites and humming a tune, but do we always get to pick the tune? Is there some deeper reason a lyric or song gets stuck in our head? The song stuck in my head this morning was Gary Allan’s “Every Storm,” and not just because I was riding into the rain. But when you think about it, every storm will run out of rain. Just not soon enough for a biker.

Being the avid motorcyclist, I’m always prepared for days like this, and when the weatherman talks percentages for rain, he really should mention the odds. Like your odds of rain in comparison to not having a rain suit with you. Your odds of ever seeing rain go down considerably after investing in a quality rain suit. Much like the odds of running out of gas near a gas station. This will always happen at the furthest point from civilization as possible.

Just like every song you hear, there are deeper meanings involved. It’s always up to the listener how words will be translated and how it will apply to you specifically, and to me this song is all about how vulnerable we are in this world and as life sets you back, it’s a matter of holding your head up knowing there are better days ahead. We can’t live our life waiting for the weather to get better; instead, we must go out in whatever weather is surrounding us and push through it. Some days it feels like you can’t win as the storm rages around you, but this storm, like the storms before it, will end and the sun will come out again. Very important words for a guy who rides a motorcycle.

As random as the weather can be, we can also be surprised by the winds of change as our lives take turns unexpectedly. We should always know this is temporary and even if there is damage and destruction surrounding us after the storm we will see the sun again. We don’t forget, we just move past. The lyric that stands out to me in this song is how we all have thorns. Below the surface of something as beautiful as the rose, you may experience a little pain. We all experience a few thorns over the course of our lifetime, but it’s the beauty of the rose we remember – not the pain of a thorn or two.

I’m a fan of Gary Allan. From the surface his music is a little dark and for good reason. To know where this darkness comes from is important to understand the emotion which comes through in every word he sings. And with that I was humming along with the words silently being sung in my head. I don’t mind riding in the rain as some of my most memorable rides happened on days just like this. I wonder what song will be playing in my head on the ride home…

 

Bits of Memories

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Have I ridden down this road before? It looks familiar, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Some of the scenery looks the same and it just feels like I’ve been down it before, but who knows? Maybe I’ve been on this road before and the reason it’s not quite familiar is I came from the other direction. Yeah, that’s it. Or is it?

Riding a motorcycle puts us in these places all the time and even driving around with your window down can have the same effect on you. People, places, sounds, sights and smells – pretty amazing isn’t it? A quick whiff of a certain smell can bring back a flood of memories. In the blink of an eye you are transported to a place back in time with thoughts and conversations as clear as if it just happened yesterday. It could be a word or phrase a friend always said to remind us of tall tales and laughter that would never end. It’s crazy to think that a trigger like that can be so powerful – but it’s only if you are paying attention. It happens all the time I’m sure, but with the daily distractions, we don’t have time to process it or recognize it when it presents itself. How great would it be to catch each and every one as it happened and for that brief moment remember “the good times.”

It can be as simple as passing an alfalfa field that is ready to cut. You pass by this field of alfalfa for days on end, and then all of a sudden you see the bluish purple hue and realize it is ready to bail. When I see something like that, as insignificant as it may seem, it takes me back to a time when living in the moment was so very important and my eyes and ears were open. It has always stayed with me and for that I’m grateful, because the connection between that moment in time and an alfalfa field today means a lot to me. The smell of a skunk takes me back to being a kid laying in bed late at night during the summer with my head next to the open window in my room. For those that can’t remember, there wasn’t always air-conditioning. The clear bottle of Miller High Life Beer takes me to 1982 and hanging out with friends Mark, Tim and Randy from around the Flush, Kansas area. Good times with good friends and good beer. The “event” or memory is one thing, but there is always something within the memory that starts you thinking back to when, where or who was there. There was a time when Valentino’s Pizza in Manhattan Kansas had gum stuck to their sign twenty feet in the air. Who knew it would stick when I threw it? Every time I think of Valentino’s, it reminds me of that night.

Maybe it’s the taste of homemade ice cream or the smell of the aftermath when a firecracker goes off. The sound of rain and thunder, a train whistle or the wind blowing through the trees. And of course anything your grandmother made in the kitchen can put you right back there standing on the chair next to her. I’m sure slamming your finger in a car door won’t take you there, but the song on the radio that was playing just before you got out will. You would think living in the same small town I grew up in would be sensory overload and yes, there are plenty of things that can stop you in your tracks and cause you to reflect on a memory, but in some instances, it becomes the normal and those memories become engrained in you to the point of seeing things in the light in which they were originally cast. My mind’s eye still sees things the way they were when it comes to White City, and not knowing if that’s a good or bad thing, but it is what it is. If the light is just right, and you squint with your good eye, this small town hasn’t changed a bit. From what I’m told, White City has a train go by every hour or so, blowing its whistle. I’m sure it does, but I don’t hear the whistle any more. It must be my mind’s ear is not listening.

So wait for it. It will happen today as it happened yesterday. Those triggers that bring back even the smallest bits of memories. Good or bad memories for sure, but either way memories all the same.

“And Then the Rain Came”

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“And then the rain came.”
Motorcycles and rain…makes you think, doesn’t it? Like a boat without a trailer and Ramen Noodles without that little packet of brown stuff-something’s just not right. Motorcycles, with their lack of all-weather protection, just aren’t for everyone. There is plenty of gear for the rider to wear to help fend off any inclement weather, but that is only going to stop some of the elements. You can bundle up when it’s cold, put on your rain suit if it’s raining, and any combination of heavier or lighter gear as the temperature fluctuates. Sometimes it’s a combination of several weather conditions we deal with at the same time, and that too, is a challenge.

A few years ago, I took a solo ride to Greeley Colorado for a family reunion. The weather man, in his war against motorcycles, was predicting heavy rain on the Friday morning in July I had planned to leave. Normally his ten percent accuracy rating would not bother me, but this time he seemed serious. My morning alarm was a clap of thunder and without too much trouble I could hear the heavy rain as it came down. But we’re riding today, right? Yep.

I had already loaded my motorcycle for the weekend trip, and with just less than 500 miles to get there, I was looking forward to it. I’ve ridden in rain like this before, and I knew getting on the bike that I might get a little wet. My rain suit is on and away I go down the street to the stop sign. Boy, it is raining. For the next 150 miles of interstate the rain would not let up. I’m not uncomfortable riding in this at all, but I think there were a few motorist that were afraid for me. I stopped in Hays Kansas at the Harley-Davidson dealer to take a break and have some coffee. For July in Kansas can be hot, with the rain the temperature was just right.

Any of you that have ever ridden with a rain suit on know that you will still get wet as the rain will creep in around your neck and up your sleeves-and this ride was no different. After thirty minutes or so, I put my rain suit back on and decided to head North to avoid the storm as heading West would have put me in it for several more hours. A few miles up the road the rain suit came off and although a little cloud cover was hanging over me, it had stopped raining.

The rest of the ride was fantastic. Sometimes it takes a storm to put you on the right road-the one you should have been on to begin with. Kind of like “life.” When you’re pushing hard in the direction you think you should be going, and you’re fighting it every step of the way, change your direction.

I ended up taking the back roads through Benkelman Nebraska and Wray Colorado where my folks grew up. We visited these places a lot when I was growing up to see family but I had never been through here on a motorcycle. Kind of appropriate since I was on my way to a family reunion in Greeley. The weatherman was right and I’m glad he was.