Rock of Ages

It’s always fun to watch my niece unwrap presents, especially when the look on her face means the gift was obviously something she really wanted. On a Christmas several years ago, she seemed thrilled as she tore festive paper away from a long metal rod. At first, I thought she was awfully happy about receiving a bicycle handlebar. I wondered whether she was simply customizing the look of her bike or if the part was a necessary replacement because of an accident. As I speculated, she slapped a cell phone on one end of this mysterious bar thingy, held it up high and took a picture of herself. Oh. So THAT’S what a selfie stick looks like. Luckily, I’d figured this out before giving away my lack of gadget expertise. If I’d suddenly asked her if she’d wrecked her bicycle, it wouldn’t have been so easy to slip back under my rock unnoticed.

I’m old enough under there to remember when simply getting pictures of anything was an adventure in itself! You could use a whole roll of film, send it away to be developed, wait a week or two and wind up with…nothing, except disappointment. Photos of blackness because the lens cap was on or there was no flash. In some unlucky cases the result was double prints of pink blobs because a finger was in the way or the people in the shot were out of focus. Those close to my age know what I mean. There are some technological advances that make life a little easier- saving time and money. Taking pictures is a good example, you know instantly if you have the shot you want. If you forget the camera, the cell phone can save you- stick or no stick.

There are other situations where my cell has come to the rescue, especially while riding my motorcycle. When rain develops, I can look at the radar image on a weather app to see if I can get out of it quickly. It makes it easier to decide if I need to find an interesting place to stop and wait for it to end, or I just have to put on rain gear and push through it. Phone navigation apps help to point myself back in the right direction if I take a wrong turn and don’t have the luxury of enough time to stay lost for a while.

my first gps
My first GPS

Yet I look back on the days of scrawling directions on my arm, no safety net of a phone, and miss that time. In many occasions now, a wireless device puts everyone on the road in more danger- namely when they are in the hands of inattentive drivers.

You’ve seen them, the texters behind the wheel who think they can stare at their phone and drive at the same time. Pretty easy to spot, usually they’re in the car in the passing lane going 10 miles an hour under the speed limit, swerving back and forth or slamming on the brakes every few seconds. They’re also the ones sitting at the light after it has turned green still staring at the cell screen. Distracted driving gets worse all the time and it’s so infuriating when I take note of how many drivers I see looking down at their phone instead of concentrating on operating their vehicle. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, driving while texting is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated- a statistic that doesn’t seem to be taken as seriously as it should. As riders I ask you to please look into supporting the motorcycle rights organization in your state. Get involved with ABATE or other groups in order to help form legislation to stop distracted driving and keep us safer on the road.

As for the tech junkies transfixed with their cell phones at all times, I don’t get it. I’m sure they probably can’t figure out why I want to jump on two wheels to ride every chance I get either. It’s hard to describe to anyone who’s never been on a bike, let alone those who don’t know life before wireless, that feeling of being present in the moment. It’s a joy I hope they’ll one day discover instead of continuing to scroll through messages and images on a flat screen. Experiencing an awareness of all my surroundings and enjoying interaction with other human beings along the way is a blessing in my life. And life under my rock is good!

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Tired of winter? Here’s a band-aid!

A winter storm passed through this part of the country leaving everything coated with an icy glaze for a couple of days. Once the roads were cleared, people gradually got back to their normal routines. This time of year that usually means I’m commuting to work while it’s still dark. But a delay after a morning trip to the veterinarian’s with my dog meant driving my truck across a mountain as the sun was rising. I wish I could have taken pictures because I don’t think I can describe how truly incredible the view was. All the different hues of daybreak were reflected off the frozen trees, every branch sparkling as if thousands of twinkling lights had been strung throughout the woods. It was so breathtaking I’ve thought about it often, trying to make sure I’ll remember the scene and store it with other mental snapshots of mine. Small moments like this do so much to soothe the ache of waiting for better riding conditions. Even though I had to constantly watch for patches of black ice, and it had been several weeks since it was nice enough to get out on the bike, I realized how much I do love the beauty of all the seasons in the Mid-Atlantic.

Whether your winter downtime consists of a few weeks or a few months, at least it’s a good opportunity to get the bike ready for when it is riding season.  As I’ve mentioned before, there is value in taking a basic rider course from an organization like MSF. Not only will you learn important riding skills, but also tips on caring for your motorcycle. Although it’s been quite a while since I took the class, I can recall the acronym they gave for the pre-ride motorcycle inspection checklist: T-CLOCS, Tires, Controls, Lights, Oil, Chassis, and Stands. I will admit, I have to search that on the web to get into the full details of each category. It seems there’s no more room in my brain to store them between those photos committed to memory and about 1,583,033,206 different song lyrics. Oh, and of course, riding memories! So even if you have to refer to a list like I do, or you’re so familiar with your bike maintenance routine that it’s automatic, make sure you take advantage of foul weather days to give your ride the TLC it needs. Nobody wants to wait out the cold weather only to miss riding when a nice day arrives because there is something wrong with the motorcycle. The same goes for finding out there’s an overlooked issue with the bike that leaves you stranded on the side of the road.

When I first started riding I was guilty of taking off without spending-a minute to look over even just the basics.  During a break on a ride through Luray, my buddy “Skid” was checking out my bike and noticed some sort of blemish on the rear tire. There was a cut in the tread that didn’t appear to be leaking air, but he didn’t like it. The tear could have been made by running over something that day, but because I hadn’t given the tires a simple once over before I left home, I couldn’t be sure. There happened to be an auto-parts store next door, and he asked me to go over and pick up some Fix-a-Flat just to make him feel better in case we discovered I had a slow leak later in the day. His girlfriend walked with me, and after making the purchase we decided it was time to have a little fun. I stashed the can in my purse, and asked the cashier for a band-aid so we could introduce Skid to the latest and greatest in tire repair.

When we got back to the bikes and I appeared to be empty handed, he asked if I’d got the Fix-a-Flat. I told him I couldn’t because they were out of it, but they sold me something they said was better and even easier to use. Brandishing the band-aid and doing my best to stay serious, I explained how I was instructed to place the bandage over the cut on the tire. Skid took the strip from me, looked at it, looked at the tire, and back at me, “WHAT?”

“Yes”, I continued. “They said it would work even better if I spit on the pad first. And the best part is it only cost 8 bucks!” Poor Skid kept staring at the band-aid; he turned it over, inspected it, and turned it back again. Finally he looked up at me with an expression on his face that was all too easy to read. He was trying to figure out how to tell me I was the biggest moron on the planet without making me cry. I couldn’t take it anymore, and burst out laughing, letting him off the hook. With spring on the way, I’d advise you to invest in a service manual for your motorcycle. Do learn the basics of bike maintenance and perform them regularly. Do carry a first aid kit in a saddlebag, with band-aids included. Don’t expect them to patch a tire, but they could come in handy for minor situations like bee stings or pulling a friend’s leg!

 

 

‘Tis the Season to be Soggy?

Imagine you’re at one of your favorite biker bars and a man yells, “Uh-oh! Look what’s coming!”

What do you think you’re going to see when you look up? Maybe it’s this guy’s buddy, finally making an appearance at the ol’ watering hole? Do you expect to see everyone’s dream bike pulling into the parking lot? Or could he be pointing out that there’s a beautiful woman walking through the front door?

In the situation I found myself in, everyone turned to see someone staring out the window…at a nasty looking, black and gray line of clouds heading our way. Resembling a dropped bag of marbles, we scattered to our bikes and rolled out in all directions before the storm hit. I don’t think police sirens can even break up a party that fast!

I also don’t think I’ve seen a year we’ve received as much rain as this one! As I begin to write this, it looks like a trip to Colonial Beach, VA for Bikefest 2018 could be partially soggy. It makes me wonder if there will be ANY dry days for riding and watching the leaves fall, or more filled with rain and a transition right on into snowfall.

As winter and the holiday season draw closer, I can say some of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever been given involve riding with protection against the elements. One year, my dad gave me a rain suit. With a worried look on his face, he asked me if it was too big and if I thought it would come in handy. I told him I hoped not, but it was really going to be nice to have it just in case! Naturally it has been put to good use quite often. The larger size actually works well for layering if it’s cold. Plus, we know it’s possible for gear and leather to mysteriously “shrink”, especially after all those holiday feasts!

Whether you’re looking to give or receive, another great gift item that will elevate comfort and extend the riding season into cold weather is any type of heated gear. In the past, I had tried different tips and tricks I’d heard about in an attempt to keep warm. Then, my brother gave me a pair of heated gloves, and with a gift certificate from my mom I picked up a jacket liner to go with them. Simply connect it to the battery of the bike and it feels like riding with an electric blanket wrapped around you. This turned out to be the best solution for me, and really works to keep the ride pleasant enough to stay on the road when the temperatures drop lower. Particularly when that change is quicker and more sudden than expected, like during the aforementioned 5th Annual Bikefest at Colonial Beach.

The lingering effects of Hurricane/Storm Michael led a small group of us to delay the ride down by a day, not being fans of torrential downpours even with rain suits. With another look at the forecasted highs and lows and the chill of the heavy wind gusts that wouldn’t diminish for two days, I unpacked some of my lightweight clothes to make room for sweats and dug the heated gear out of the closet for the trek to the festival. Once there we made up for lost time, taking in all we could up and down the beach. Much like, as my friend Sharon described, a bunch of kids running amok at an amusement parkIMG_20181015_112206 desperate not to miss anything.

There were vendors and events to check out, foods to sample, and a steady stream of free live music all along this scenic stretch of the Potomac River. Area favorites like Blues Rebellion and Grindin’ Gears could be found at High Tides Black Pearl Tiki Bar and Dockside Restaurant, while The Artimus Pyle Band and Buckcherry took to the main stage at Town Hill during the weekend. The final day the breezes slowed, and I headed home with only occasional drizzle to deal with and a smile still on my face.

The best part of this rally was sharing the fun with good people and making memories to look back and laugh on. May Thanksgiving and Christmas be blessed with more of the same for everyone.