Up the Creek

He wasn’t lost, misplaced or meandering, a better term would be “re-orienting himself.” Bushwhacking wasn’t his forte but he has a decent natural north and generally got where he wanted to be without a phone, map or GPS.  Currently the problem was the county road division.  They didn’t believe in paving roads.  This road clearly was going somewhere or it wouldn’t have asphalt on it.  Every time he considered turning right or left he’d find the pavement ended after 50 to 100 feet.  Tricked the first couple of times he was now in the habit of slowing and looking before he turned in.  A 90 degree turn to the right throbbed in his head.  Just a turn to the right before he was too off track.

Another intersection, another dirt road; every mile or so.

He turns down one of the incomplete roads, kills the engine and coasts to a stop.  He can hear the wheels on the sandy (soon to end) blacktop.  Dismounting cop style he plants his foot and swings his right foot over the seat.  He can feel blood flowing back into his knees.  Looking around for some sign of humanity, namely a silo or water-tower he thinks about direction.  The land is rolling and flat punctuated by heavy brush wherever there is water.  He had been taught to follow water if he ever got lost.  “Water leads to people because people seek it out.  Humans need water!” His father was an outdoors-man and worried about his boy getting lost or eaten by something.  “Water goes to more water,” he said, “It’s life.  It will lead you down from the mountain and somewhere on it’s bank you will find people.”  What kind of people was never mentioned.  Pop looked so serious when he’d pass that sort of information along.  His eyes were so bright back then.  Over the years the frame of his face had changed, become wrinkled and gray but his eyes had always been so very bright.  Things change, things fade.

Down the road about a quarter of a mile he can see where a small creek wanders over and bumps the packed gravel.  There are a couple of what could be small walnut trees there as well.  The image of a pipe clean or furry caterpillar comes to mind as he looks around at the meandering creek.  Throwing a his leg back over he fires it up and starts down the road, quickly dropping off the pavement.  It is a well maintained “unimproved” road without washboard or washouts.  Shadow lay on the road and parking meant keeping away from the shoulder to keep it from collapsing.  A junction box cover came out of a saddlebag and went under the kickstand just in case.

Shade felt good.  Protected from the sun.  Respite.  Just big enough to be called a creek and not a drainage brown water rain with modest speed.  It was hard to believe that the ground had that much run to it.  Rooting around he found his rain jacket and after an inspection for insects or their homes he spread it with the liner up and then sat down and laid back on it.

The Ends of Your Fingertips and Toes

The ends of your fingertips and toes is about how far you can reach out and physically change things.  It’s true, beyond your true bodily reach things get changed by idea and persuasion. Granted, you can extend your reach through technology like guns and  knives, or threats and extortion, but those are often promises or threats of projected physical reach.

I’m talking about how you influence those around you even though folks aren’t  close enough for you to reach out and ring their necks.  It’s the encounter with the faceless that I speak of; those times when you’re in the immediate company of people who get/have to make snap decisions about who and what you are because you’re just as faceless to them.  By your appearance, attitude and action folks will make snap decisions about you, your intention and your ability.

Dirty secret time:

I have been able to grow a respectable beard and mustache since I was 18.  I’ve got Viking blood and a wonderful dirty copper beard (now striped with silver).   As a young man  I trimmed it into a fu manchu because it looked bad ass.  Yes, was driving a semi and wanted people not to mess with me…honestly.  In fact it’s fair to say I wanted them to take a step back and not bother me.  I allowed my ‘stache to influence beyond my reach and encourage people to move over and get out of the way.  In essence I wanted to scare people back.  I also rode a  Honda XL500S that I had piped and put twenty-three rings into, and if you know what I’m talking about,  you know that’s just about as close to a straight pipe as you can get.  If I was trying to be stealthy on return to my parent’s house I would shut down about 1/4 mile away and try to coast it all the way home.

I know a thing or two about loud pipes.  I know they send a clear message.  I know that effectively shouting down all other traffic is a good time.  But that’s not what I’m talking about here.  I’m talking about mustaches.  I”m talking about does the inside control the outside or does the outside define the inside?

My mother used to say, “You’re too mean and orn’rey to get married” so she taught my brothers and I  to cook and wash and wax.  Here’s a bit you wouldn’t guess:  I used to bake and decorate birthday cakes for the young ladies I wanted to impress.  I can make pretty good biscuits and cookies too.  One night a little over 25 years I was cooking a lovely young lady dinner.   I had as much mustache as the university’s dress code would allow.  My hair was too long for the code and I have been to the Dean of Students because I punched in a couple of ear rings for a video shoot I was “acting” in.  (Turns out that at a straight laced university with a film department they were woefully short on shady characters).  To the point, during dinner this young lady informed me that she “would never, ever kiss a man with a mustache”.

Game on.

Before dessert I excused myself went to the bathroom, turned on the fan for cover and took out my electric razor and removed my ‘stache.   Suffice it to say that 25 years and 4 children later it was a pretty slick move.  When I shaved off the mustache there was no trepidation.  I was not emasculating myself or surrendering my freewill or somehow compromising my ethics.  I wanted a kiss this hot chick and shaving did the trick.   The lip caterpillar has been on and off ever since.  I grow it every year before I start training other riders because there’s this idea that “If you don’t have facial hair you can’t ride.”  I turn it to my own purposes…plus I like it.  Kids in my classes at school are confused because I shave it off sometime in December and they ask, “Shouldn’t you grow it in winter and shave it off in summer?” Losing it makes me look 10 years younger.

But I do it because I want to.

Here’s the point:  If you dress, act and ride like a badass, if you’re pushing to influence folks outside your real, human reach with how you look, there’s a danger that you’ll also change on the inside.  It’s called Cognitive Dissonance, the idea that you can’t hold contrary beliefs in your mind.  You can’t simultaneously be for something and against it.  Your brain will pick one or the other and cast off the remainder.  You’ll see this phenomena clearly in riders.  Eventually the grimy angry biker becomes what he advertises.  That guy with that day-glo bike?  He becomes that patronizing, annoying know it all who’s out to save you regardless of your need or desire to be saved. Remember the guy hung up on the physics and minutiae of riding?  Yup, they won’t enjoy riding anymore they only enjoy arguing about it–they stop being a rider and become a physics major nobody wants to deal with.

It’s OK to send a message beyond your fingertips and toes–the real question is, “What if you become what you appear to be?”  You go where you look and you can end up becoming what you are.

Be careful, be safe.

The Rear View Mirror Paradox

People often speak of how “things are different now” as though the entire world has changed and only they have stayed the same.  It is a refrain I have heard my entire life especially from, shall we say, more mature persons.  Now that there is gray in my beard I notice I even say it time to time although there seems to be a differentiating dependent clause attached to “things are different now” and it can go opposite ways.  It reads like this:

“Things are different now, they were better…”


“Things are different now, ain’t it cool?”

To my experience there’s a school of thought that turns to positive reflection and negative vision; people offer that the best is in the rear-view mirror and they appear to focus on what ‘has been’ not ‘what is’.  In motorcycling this a bad, bad habit.  If you devote too much attention to the mirrors (especially at inappropriate times) you place yourself at intense risk in the right now and the immediate future.  Do I check my mirrors?  Dang straight, only a fool never looks back!  At stoplights I’ll pay extra attention to make sure what’s behind me doesn’t send me into the glorious, heavenly future.  Last time I checked about six percent of motorcycle accidents involved getting smacked from behind.  

How often do riders get struck from behind while moving? I have no idea but I would imagine it’s pretty rare.  Seen it around my neighborhood a couple of times, mostly at night if memory serves.  Riders tend to obsess about stoplights and stacked lanes and that’s not a bad thing because at the end of a long line of cars waiting to turn right at the bottom of an off-ramp if you’re the last guy in line you’re in a spot that should make you uneasy about the next person bailing off the freeway.  

But what about the bulk of your riding time?  Are you checking your six and then getting on with life or are you squinting into the reflection trying to figure out what you missed back there or where you’ve been?  Context is very important in this calculation because you should be worrying about things like:  Where are you? What should you be worried about?  When will you arrive?  How will you deal with things around you?  

This is were transformation comes into play.  I believe that things don’t change that much.  I believe that instead of the world changing around us, we change the way we perceive the world around us.  How is that possible, when there is sooo much change around us?  Simple:  we transform the way we view change itself.  Instead of watching the road in front of us we can become overburdened with looking to the past and then not applying it to the future.

Does that make sense?   I mean to say that as we view the past we don’t accept that what happened, worked, didn’t work are just as applicable today.  As we transform into adults, or middle age, or our golden years, we don’t view the past in any kind of context except “it was different then…it was better then”.  Example:  I have kids in their early twenties.  They tend to stay up too late at night and sleep too late in the day…especially on weekends.  Two major options come to mind in dealing with this; first, I can get angry because today’s youth is soooo irresponsible blah, blah, blah and get all “back in the day” on them OR, I can realize that back in the day I’d stay out way too late at night and then sleep as long as I could get away with.  Things are as they always were.  

‘Nother example:  Teen Pregnancy.  I was listening to my dear mother complain about girls getting knocked up in high school.  Asking, “Didn’t that happen back in the day?” My sainted mother then went on to tell me all about the girl who she knew had been pregnant.  I asked, “What happened to her” and got a “She went to live with relatives in (name your faraway state)”.  My next, best question was, “DId any other girls move to Kansas to help their Aunt/Sister/Grandma with the farm or the new baby or anything like that?”  

Yeah, girls got pregnant in the 1940’s society deals with it differently now.  Girls carry to term and try to stay in school.  The shaming and shunning is gone.  It’s right there in your face now–it doesn’t move to Kansas and return a year later a little broader of hip, world worn or soul weary.  Sure the world has changed how these girls are dealt with but the real question is do you look in the mirror and focus there to fix what’s in front of you?  On a bike our vision to what’s behind us is very, very limited–mostly by ourselves.  Ride a bike and you know what I mean.  

Riders get a wonderful view of their elbows and shoulders as they look into a 3 inch by 4 inch portal to the past, it’s a amazingly myopic view and there’s a time and a place to watch what’s behind you like a hawk.  The paradox is how to use the rear view constructively and not at the expense of the Now and the Future.  Things are not that different back there and what we’ve passed through should be applied to what awaits.  In the past we may have paid a toll but by looking back with longing we often create a vitriol for the future–or even for the people we see paying the toll behind us; how could they not have seen that coming?  The same way you didn’t.

It’s a paradox how to integrate the past into the future without losing our context of the moment.

Be Safe.  

Definitions and Expectations

I am a “safety professional” and sometimes that’s very cool and other times it is downright embarrassing.  One of the biggest problems motorcyclists face is labeling; by sorting and categorizing people we actually make our lives simpler because it saves us the time needed to do the research and get to know somebody.   So we are perfectly clear on this:  I believe that stereotypes run both ways–sometimes we use them and sometimes we live them.  Yeah, sometimes it’s pretty darn easy to be a “safety professional” because all I have to do is live up to other’s expectations…If you’re not ATGATT you’re an idiot, if you’re riding like a ninny you’re a stat waiting to happen–you know, that basic Safety Nazi stuff that’s so offensive when someone uses it against me but sooo easy to live when I’m not interested in working on my own opinions and ideals.

There is a elegance of living that comes with a stereotypes; we simply do what the stereotype requires and BOOM!  Done.  Is every moment of every day lived by the stereotype?  No, however we often find ourselves in positions where it’s easier to drape ourselves in a title rather than explain who we are.  When I say, “I am a safety professional” then you instantly pull up a file and say, “OK.  I know what those guys are like.”  That just happens.

Labeling ourselves is pretty common behavior.

What religion are you?  Episcopal? That’s Catholic lite right?

Political views?  Conservative?  Rush fan eh?

Sports?  Soccer?  Yeah…keep score or not?

This is a two way street I’m talking about we use stereotypes to our own advantage because it’s easier to throw out a category rather than define our own unique position on the scale.  There is a danger to this and that is we sometimes get lazy and start believing our own stereotypes.  We become that thing by which we identify ourselves.

Recently I was with a like minded group of safety professionals and I wound up asking myself, “Self, is this who you are?  Or are you something different?”  In motorcycle safety there is an orthodox position (or maybe expectation) on most issues.  Once you have a gaggle of safety folks around it’s curious to watch as everybody cinches up their safety belt and sucks their safety paunch in.  Hey, I do it myself.  Ain’t no way I’m gonna admit to those folks that I routinely ride my bike to work without wearing dedicated riding pants or an over pant.  Do you want to be that guy?  You want to fit in, to not rock the boat–you want peer acceptance.

Adults face peer pressure just like kids and adult peer pressure is just as capable as causing you to change your behavior as teen peer pressure is especially when you’re with a group of people engaged in a good cause you respect. Orthodox behavior and beliefs can lead to a thing I like to call “Hyper-obedience”.  This is when, to feel success in the group, you push the envelope farther than standard orthodoxy requires.  In the motorcycle safety community (over time) I’ve ran into folks who offer that you should wear a helmet just to move a bike around in the garage–no lie.  There’s an orthodox position on helmets, type of helmets, gear, quality of gear, hi-viz v. anything else, helmet–solid, pattern, color– how much gear to wear and when to wear it, pre-bike inspections (which, for me consists of looking under the bike for puddles of fluids…I can tell if the tires are low by pushing it out of the garage), group ride etiquette like hand signals, lane discipline, road captains, and sweepers, what size bike to start with, when to step up on size…just a ton of stuff that actually has a position that peer pressure says:  Feel THIS way about this.

When I’m in a conversation with another safety pro it’s very easy to know what you should say and if it’s not what you want to say then you might clam up or even just quote back what you feel the orthodox position is–unless you feel safe enough with the person or persons you’re with to actually say what’s in your heart or mind.

The problem is that this can create an “Us v. Them” mentality; a bit of a besieged state of mind.  Once the world is against you there’s a certain amount of zealousness that sets in.  A potential to dig a trench and bunker down can set in and you can end up viewing yourself as a lone light in the darkness, maybe even a bit of a martyr.  If the chattering hordes are against you it can only mean you’re very right…or very wrong when in fact you’re neither.

As a motorcycle safety professional I believe it’s not my job to change the world.  I shouldn’t be worrying about legislation or whether or not dealers should sell 1000cc bikes to 18 year old kids.  It’s not my job to hassle you in person or on the web to ride the way I want you to ride or to change your habits and hopes.  My job isn’t to make you not want a bike that’s too big, too fast or too (insert orthodox negative asset here).  I’m not here to change your dreams of clothing or cross country club cavalcades.  I’m not here to make you renounce your speeding sins or slothful slaloms.  My job as a “safety professional” is to love motorcycles and motorcyclists; to let your head know that your heart is special to someone–even to me.  Bikes are a blessing and giving riders the tips, tricks and techniques to have a long, full, joyful riding career is, well, my business.  Do I want you to change?  No, I want you to be better, to make a reasoned choice, to think beyond yourself and create a situation where you’re more likely to come home at night and be with those you love.  Motorcycles aren’t here to leave gaps in the web of family and friends, they’re here to build a bigger community and connect us with others who share our love.  And friend?  If you’re on a bike–any bike–I love you too.

Be Safe.

Inclusion or Exclusion?

I have been in a private message conversation with a gentleman about how to handle motorcycle riders who want to take an alternate path to learning to ride.  To his mind there really is only one path:  professional instruction, followed by buying a 250cc motorcycle, followed a  long and tedious regime of secondary streets and parking lot practice.

OK.  I’m probably over stating his position but it’s a pretty typical answer that’s given when someone ups and says, “I want to learn to ride.”

The discussion we’ve had is how to handle someone who, in the face of what is clearly a reasonable course of action, says, “Cool.  But I’m going to get a XYZ1000 and my buddies will show me how to do it.”

To many safety advocates that kinda ruffles the feathers.  How do you answer that question?  On line we often find well intended folks who grab hold of that safety mind set that says train, go small, build into it and then amp it up into a benevolent lie–something like:  “If you start on a literbike?  Figure on being a statistic–don’t blame me when you’re a quadriplegic!”   There’s this attempt to sound like a safety pro that quickly turns acrimonious and, frankly just kills the conversation.

Think about it a moment.  A new or aspiring rider comes up and asks your opinion.  That says “I value your opinion” don’t it?  And sometimes it means “I have this bad idea–back me up will you?”  Once in a while it may be someone looking to pick a fight but that’s truly rare.  So whaddaya do?  If it’s a truly bad idea do you encourage?  Evade?  Engage and destroy?  Run away maybe?

Often on the web I see well intended experienced riders go directly to a strafe and kill, scorched and salted earth thing where ridicule and (bad) black humor shows up and you get the “Hey, buy life insurance and name me the beneficiary” kind of thing going.  It discounts the questioner and clearly devalues them.  I believe it’s a bit of a defense mechanism internally designed to push away so no emotional investment can be made–if you quickly and decisively end the conversation with denigration then you don’t have to risk forming bonds.   It’s akin to that self sabotage teenagers have when the insult someone they’re infatuated with so they don’t risk later rejection and pain.  No risk?  No reward.

And that may be the problem.  Motorcycling is a risk management business and not everybody can stand the same risk.  Personally I’m never going to tell you that you’re a future statistic and that if you really loved your family you’d sell that crotchrocket and get something more muted.  Why?  Because if you’re sharing a life long dream with me I’m not going to piss on your campfire.  I’m a good guest.  I want to get to the place where I can get a couple of ideas into your head like keeping the engine map set on “RAIN” for the first couple months or seriously looking at what the insurance will cost if you have to have comprehensive because you’ve got a bank loan.   When someone tells you a bad idea you don’t have to open with, “Boy.  Are you stupid!”  How about a “Are you sure you wanna do that?”  And if they are?  Rather than unzipping and unleashing on the fire in cloud of steam and indignation why not see if you can help alter the course to the most reasonable path?

Unfortunately the fellow I was discussing this with essentially said, “I can’t fix stupid.  Why bother?”  Which is fine.  Ride your own ride.  However, don’t we owe it to the new an aspiring to help them not make the mistakes we made?  And if they’re fixed on it don’t we have responsibility to at least help mitigate the risk with sound advice instead of condemnation?