Tuesday, December 11, 2012

all wrapped up

...and nowhere to go.

i finally bit the bullet and covered vixen today. with the weather turning decidedly colder i had been meaning to for a few weeks, since i'm obviously not riding much at the moment. i was going to do it this past weekend, but i woke up sunday morning to rain. i was going to do it this morning, and just as i was about to head out the door, what do i see but the first few drops. i rushed outside, throwing the cover on her backside, wiped down the front before covering it, and repeated with the back. now she's safely under cover for what could be another cold, snowy winter.

and i have mixed feelings about it. i can't help but feel a little bit defeated, as if i'm admitting i'm not hardcore enough to ride year round, or that i'm not a true motorcyclist. and maybe some of that is true, but i'm not sure it's a bad thing. part of it is also just common sense, realizing that no, i don't ride that much anymore, and when i do it's more transportation than pleasure. and maybe i'm ok with that too. as i continue to transition, things are going to phase in and out. it's awkward sometimes, a little uncomfortable, and can be scary. but that's life. as with the seasons, goes the blog, it seems, and so we'll have to see how much i continue to update now that i have truly called it for the year.

although, in more upbeat news, i have been, for the past few weeks, working on a book about my trip. it's an idea that's been floating around in my head since i finished (or started, actually), but couldn't really find the right way to approach it. i started a few times before, but it felt off. mainly because i had already written practically an entire book with my blog (i checked, around 25k words. half a manuscript). and partially because i didn't really want to just write a travelogue. i needed something more. i needed more of myself in there. and i finally figured out a way to approach it that made sense.

writing about it in this way has also caused me to reexamine it in new ways as well. i always thought that, first and foremost, it was about the bike. about getting to take a ride like that, on the open road. and part of it was, but i don't know if it was the major factor. a large part of it was about the journey i took with myself (as cliche as it sounds), and the bike may have been the method that best suited where i was in my life. as i write, i'm not waxing philosophical about the best roads, or the prettiest vistas, or how nice it was to get back in the saddle. ok, i am a little bit. but not as much as i thought. we'll have to see how it ends up. constant questioning, that's me.

and, to be honest, i don't have a whole lot more to say on the subject at the moment. even with the book, these things haven't been at the forefront of my mind. so i'm signing off now, at least for the year. maybe longer. such is life.

until next time,



Saturday, November 10, 2012

packing it in

forgive the next few weeks or so, i'm in the process of figuring out how i want to format this blog to keep it relevant, but also keep it focused (i don't want to just have a "this is my life!" blog). so there may be a few posts off-topic, or posted and then deleted, or who knows what else. it's all a big experiment anyway, right?

in seattle, we've decided to skip autumn. we had a few weeks, sure, but we've moved on to winter rather quickly. it seems that every night i am adding another blanket to my bed. this morning there was significant frost on the ground. unfortunately, this means we are coming to that time of year where riding days become scarce.

now i've commuted in the winter before. i really don't mind it. but with my current commute being on foot, it's a non-issue this year. it was last year too, but i didn't really accept that until it was too late and vixen was covered in a foot of snow for several weeks. this year i want to treat her right, if i can swing it. ideally this would mean moving her to bellevue for the season, where she can be garaged, but at the very least i want to cover her before we get any snow. ordinarily i wouldn't be worried about this until at least the end of november, but with the crazy weather going around, part of me wants to not take any chances and cover the old girl up now. of course, there are a few days in the near future where it would be very handy to have transportation... oh the conundrums of the urban biker.

this is where the balance comes in. i knew there would be challenges when i gave up my car, and really, it wouldn't be that different without vixen, because i would just be relying on the bus (have i mentioned how i loathe the bus?). so i might be breaking out the winter duds (which i haven't worn since my big trip). not the snazziest, but they do the trick. and if i'm actually going to be riding this winter, better comfortable than fashionable.

i think it will be good for me to ride more, especially this winter. i've been losing my connection with my bike, and what it means to be a motorcyclist (see last post) and, as i was musing on this, i came up with the term theoretical riding. theoretical riding is when you contemplate going somewhere, but talk yourself out of it, due to weather, gas, lack of destination, whatever. these are the times i lose connection. whenever i go for an actual ride, none of this matters, and i'm always glad i did. i feel like i am connected, not just with vixen, but with that part of myself, my identity. and that's a good feeling.

here's to more actual riding, and less theoretical.



Friday, November 2, 2012

further ruminations of a motorcyclist

since my last post i've been thinking a lot about what it means to be a motorcyclist, and how it fits into my life. toying with the idea of selling my bike is a little frightening, not just because i love her and would be sorry to give her up. it would represent a huge shift in how i identify myself.

i've realized just how much being a motorcyclist has helped shape my identity. many of my lifestyle decisions revolved around their practicality and/or use on bikes. my leather jacket is still my go-to, for instance. the other day when i didn't feel like wearing it, i realized i didn't really have another mid-weight jacket. over the years i've just gotten rid of everything else, because i never wore them.

this is just one example, but it's a good one to examine. the leather jacket is perhaps the most iconic piece of gear associated with bikers out there, both stylistically and practically. the fact that it has become my first and (almost) only jacket is telling to me. i've spent a long time honing my personal style, and much of it has, for better or worse, revolved around the jacket. i know much of this must seem superficial, and at times maybe it is, but feeling true to myself is very important to me, and the feeling of putting on airs or representing something i'm not is the number one way to make me uncomfortable in any given situation. and yes, clothing and style factor into this. i've posted before about the aesthetic of motorcycling, and for the most part i've used that aesthetic to help define my style. i do like it, but i feel it occasionally limits me. when you only have one choice, what do you do when it doesn't feel right?

i guess for me, all of these ideas; personal aesthetic, style, identity, are all wrapped up in one package. one could call it holistic identity. if i'm a motorcyclist, i'm a motorcyclist. if i'm not, then what am i doing dressing like one? i know, i'm horrible at compartmentalizing these different aspects of my life, but i can't really help it. further manifestations of my OCD. i can't be half one thing and half another, or my brain will force me to create a split and drive one out. does this mean i can't be a part-time motorcyclist? i'm not sure. but the longer i use it to define aspects of my identity, the harder it becomes to reverse the flow, and change that definition, even if it feels right.

i mentioned complacency in my last post as well, which is another fear of mine. i hate the idea of waking up one morning and discovering that i've phoned in the last 15 years, or even the last few months. i am constantly reevaluating my needs, passions, desires, because if i don't i fear i will no longer do things because i truly want to or need to, but because they are comfortable, easy, routine. i need to live consciously, every day, and this means making hard decisions, not taking anything for granted. i suppose the danger in this is dooming myself to a cycle of never being completely satisfied, but better constantly striving for fulfillment than being content with just-good-enough, right?

apparently, it's easy to get philosophical off the bike, too.

i sign off every post with "ride fast, take chances". i think occasionally i forget what this means when i write it. live deep, live purposefully. live intentionally. don't settle. don't give in, and never give up. it's the constant search for improvement, without sacrificing your enjoyment during the process. you can have everything on paper, but if you aren't enjoying it, what do you really have?

i think i need to go for a ride.



Sunday, October 28, 2012

a humbling ride

it's easy to get philosophical on a bike. there's something about the ride that gets your mind working, thinking on things bigger than just your destination. it can be nice. or, depending on the ride, not so nice.

last night was the first time in a long time that i didn't feel quite safe on my bike. i was riding home across I-90 after a party, and it was not what i would call a fun experience. there were too many factors combined that led to a really nasty ride. it had been raining most of the day (though it wasn't raining on my way home), it was somewhat cold, but most importantly, it was very windy. gusty, to be specific. i've ridden in most types of nasty weather there is, and i have to say, gusty wind is the worst. i knew i was in trouble when, heading toward the freeway on mercer island, i could see the traffic lights dancing and bobbing in the wind, and the leaves on the street (also not fun) whipping up from the wet pavement. and i got what i expected. sporadic gusts, from all directions, spraying water across an already wet bridge is not a fun way to travel. especially on a bike as light as vixen, with the roads already being slick, one unexpected burst would send me almost into the other lane, occasionally losing tire traction in the process. you don't normally find me riding in 5th gear in the slow lane, but last night i was just trying to ride straight until i made the tunnel.

i did make it home without incident, but not without getting philosophical. i think i felt unsafe for several reasons. partially because of the weather conditions, sure, but also because i'm out of condition. i don't ride much these days. i walk to work, to the grocery store, and anywhere else on the west side of the bridge, i'll often take my bicycle. this is the first time this year i've really ridden in bad weather, and i'm out of practice. it's mostly a mental thing, but that type of thing is very important while riding. one of the things i like about motorcycles is that you can't phone it in. most riders are safer than most drivers, merely because they have to concentrate on what they're doing, or they'll crash. it's not an option.

but, for the same reason, you have to be in the right mindset to ride confidently, especially in inclement weather. i realized last night how little i ride these days, even during the summer. i don't necessarily think this is a bad thing as part of the big picture, but my lack of confidence made me think. how much do i have to ride to be considered a "motorcyclist"? once a week? once a year? i don't think there's a set number of rides you need to hit, again it's more of a mindset. it's how it fits into your life. when i made the conscious decision to give up my car, i also made the conscious decision to identify as a motorcyclist. i still do, but maybe not as much. i'm a walker, a bicyclist, an urban dweller, as well as a motorcyclist. i try to live consciously and deliberately. i live simply. how does my bike fit into all this? can it fit into my life in the same way?

i have a good friend on my hurling team who suffered a pretty serious head injury in early september. he's going to be fine, though the recovery is a long one, but he has said he will most likely not play anymore. it's just not worth the risk. this was the other side of the coin last night; how much of this is worth the risk? during a ride like last night, you can't help but ponder the what-ifs, and questioning the risks. how much is it worth it? are the rides worth the risks? there are experiences on a bike i wouldn't trade for anything, but are the good rides good enough? are the bad rides bad enough to change your mind? or your life?

i've been going through a lot of transition recently in my life, and it's caused me to question just about everything. i've been trying to figure out what i need to live a complete life, and what is just excess or, worse, what is detracting from my experiences. nothing has been too sacred to be put on trial, and motorcycling is no different. i've pondered before about selling vixen after realizing how little i need her living in the city. that was a practical and economical debate. this is more psychological, philosophical, temporal. right now i have no answers and, as you can see, plenty of questions. nothing is changing, but everything is up in the air. it's an interesting place to be. a little scary, kind of freeing, but reassuring that i'm not living complacently. i'm not phoning it in.

my philosophy in life has always been: it's not what you can live with, it's what you can't live without. this rarely leads to the easy path, but it's always the more satisfying journey. and that's all we have, really.

stay tuned.



Tuesday, October 16, 2012

old seeds replanted

so the other night, at my company's annual fundraising gala, we auctioned off a couple of Buddy50s from the Genuine Scooter Company. in snazzy red, no less. it got me to thinking.

no, i did not buy the scooter. i'm broke. but i did start thinking back to a couple of years ago, when the idea of a cross-country trip first started germinating in my cracked nest of a brain. let me explain.

the idea started with a scooter. i wanted to do something a little crazy. ok, crazier than riding solo around the country on vixen. really crazy. i wanted to ride from seattle to orlando (where i had a friend living at the time) on a 50cc scooter. how's that for crazy?

the rules were simple: the only transportation i could use was the scooter. and i could only travel on roads on which i could actually go the speed limit (no shoulder riding). this capped me at maybe 40 mph, 45 mph if i'm lucky.

the reasoning behind this was twofold. first, i wanted to see if it could be done. i'm a little loathe to admit it, but if i even wanted to get across lake washington on roads under 45 mph, i would have to look at a map. i'm sure it can be done, but i'm not sure how to do it. in fact, most seattleites don't know how to do it. because they don't have to. and i started wondering if you could do it across the whole country. is it even possible? especially after my 2011 trip, i'm not so sure. i was on so many farm roads, going through small towns in the middle of nowhere, where the speed limit was still 45, 50, even 55 mph. can you get across the country only traveling under 45 mph? it would be very interesting to find out.

the second reason is slightly more abstract, and definitely idealistic. i think that traveling this way, forcing yourself off the main roads and beaten paths, you would get to see a completely different side of america. i saw much of the country traveling the old US highway system (i avoided interstates as much as possible), but this system, though outdated, was still designed with travel efficiency in mind. i would love to see where you would be forced to go if you avoid all of that. the towns, the backroads, it would be amazing. and you would get damn good at reading maps...

of course, this plan did have some drawbacks, that ultimately led to the evolution into the trip i did take. first off, traveling this way would take a long time. a really long time. i was estimating 2-3 weeks one way, from seattle to orlando. another (minor) downside was luggage. scooters are (obviously) not built for long-distance travel, and what i could take would be severely limited. this would mean probably no camping (not such a downside) which would cost more. and, perhaps the biggest drawback, i really wouldn't want to make the return trip. it would be fascinating to get there, but getting back the same way seems wholly unnecessary, and a bit masochistic. i began fantasizing about buying a scooter, riding it to florida, and selling it for a plane ticket home.

and this is kind of what i'm thinking of now. now that this crazy scheme is back in my head, i've made a few adjustments, some changes and tempering of expectations, and i have a plan. kind of. i have the beginnings of a plan. the idea of the beginnings of a plan.

i want to proposition a scooter company (right now, i'm thinking Genuine. They're local [Chicago], relatively new, and seem kind of scrappy and upstart. right up my alley) to give me loan of a scooter to do the ride. if i can get them to sponsor me the scooter, which i will return at the end of the trip, i think i could swing the rest of it financially. instead of seattle/florida (i don't have any place to stay in FL anymore. plus, i've been there), i will propose a ride from portland to portland. oregon to maine. both portlands are nice and hipster; small and gritty with a DIY vibe, they are both scooter friendly towns (plus, it has a nice ring to it, and i've never been to maine). riding across the country (on the northern side) without touching a speed limit above 45 mph. i'd get to go on another adventure, see more of the country i haven't seen, and it would be great publicity for the company (Genuine. The Only Adventure Scooter Company.) and i could stop at the factory in chicago on my way across. i would of course blog about it, and it would make for some very interesting adventures.

i think it sounds brilliant. i can only hope someone at Genuine thinks so too.

until next time (updates? sponsorship?)




it's a good news/bad news type of thing, really. well, more of a good news for the universe/bad news for scott type of thing. it turns out, Genuine is really down with the long-distance scooter thing. so much so, in fact, that they've already sponsored several trips, around the USA, france/italy and an ongoing trip for something called urawesome.com.

so, good news for the universe: apparently you can travel all around this great country by way of a scooter, assumedly on roads with lower speed limits (otherwise it would be illegal). yay. but, bad news for scott: it's been done. at least in terms of sponsorship, i'm guessing it's a no-go. oh well. back to the drawing board...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

riding with company

i've taken passengers on vixen before, with varying degrees of success. she's a sporty broad, with a relatively high center of gravity and her rear is just large enough for someone to ride it, without much wiggle room. i've never ridden on the back of vixen personally, so i can only speak to what it's like as the rider with a passenger and, for the most part, it really depends on the passenger. yesterday, as my good friend catherine and i rode out to my dad's on the eastside to collect a car to go hiking (follow all that?), i definitely had one of the best two-person riding experiences in my riding history.

i attribute this to several factors. one, my good friend catherine is rather tiny or, as i like to say, pocket-sized. her light frame doesn't affect vixen's weight distribution as much as 99% of the population would, and i could (for the most part) ride normally. the other primary factor that made for a good riding experience was the fact that i am not dating catherine. now, this may seem like a weird qualifier to make, but hear me out.

at least two of the passengers i've taken in the past (not all on vixen) have been significant others and, because of this, i have no problem with them being nice and tight up against me. some people are more comfortable this way, some are less, but if you're taking your sweetie for a ride, then i'd say they usually fall into the "more" category. catherine sits a little ways back on the seat, so much so that, again partially due to her minuscule proportions, i actually had to check if she was still there a few times. creating this gap between rider and passenger is quite comfortable for several reasons. one, it allows both persons to adjust their own body position exclusive of the other. as i learned on my trip, even the slightest adjustment forward or back on the saddle can create a world of difference to one's back, neck and knees. two, the gap also means that any sudden changes in velocity due to shifting, braking or unexpected circumstances means i don't get slammed into my tank. this is not fun. trust me. you don't want me getting slammed into my tank (especially if we're dating. irony?)

anyway, it was a nice ride out to bellevue, except for one moment coming back on I-90. we were cruising along in the slow lane (for reasons i will expand on in a minute) when i noticed a fellow rider on a red sportsbike (didn't notice the make) coming up behind in another lane. two seconds later, he nearly clipped us shooting by, suddenly in our lane, going at least 15 mph faster than us. we were to the right side of the lane and he had enough space to get by, but i had no idea he was there, or planning on sharing the lane with me. without so much as a how-do-you-do he was already gone, weaving through traffic like a world class jackass. now i understand that when riding sometimes the safe play is to be aggressive, but you can do it without being stupid, and without being a jerk. i call it assertive riding. this guy was not assertive. this guy was a jerk.

we were cruising in the slow lane, going right around 60, for several reasons. mainly because i always take extra caution when riding with passengers (especially those without a lot of riding experience), but also because of my helmet. i have two helmets: a full face and a half-helmet. the half is usually used for riding around town, or on quick errands. the full face is my standard headgear. again, though, with a passenger, things change a bit. i always give my passenger the full face and use the half for myself. this is mostly a safety thing, but i also know that i will always have eye protection (one benefit of glasses) and, if i'm the less-protected of the two, i know i will always ride within my comfort level. and, when you're riding on the freeway in a half helmet, that means going in the slow lane. i could never understand how harley riders could go cruising along in 50 degree weather going 85 mph wearing nothing more than a skullcap and sunglasses. my face would either be a) numb, b) covered in bugs or c) numb and covered with bugs which i don't notice because i can't feel anything above the neck. also, it's really loud! on longer rides i use earplugs or music under my full face, but i had neither yesterday. especially going through the tunnels, it was just constant cacophony, almost to distraction. in the future, if i can help it, i will always wear a full face on the freeway.

in other thoughts, today is september 15th. exactly one year ago i was just over halfway through with my trip. i had woken up in orlando after almost two full days off the bike and was making my way to savannah, georgia.

it's weird to think about. i was in such a different place in my life, and not just geographically. while i was on the road, my entire life was reduced to very few, extremely simple objectives. find gas. get food. get to where i was staying that night. even those two days in orlando was a mental strain, and i was eager to get back on the road, and be by myself. i really learned to appreciate solitude during my trip, and that may be the one thing that has stuck with me more than anything. there are times when i want nothing more than to go home, turn up some music and just read. or cook. or do nothing. but these seemingly routine tasks suddenly seem far more daunting when someone else enters the picture.

there are certain aspects of my life that i like to compartmentalize. and certain things i enjoy far more on my own. riding is one of those things for me. on trips, i like being with people at the end of the day, socializing, talking about the miles or our progress or any difficulties. but on the road i don't like to have to worry about another person. am i going too fast? too slow? are they getting hungry? do they need gas? these thoughts work their way into my brain until i can't concentrate on anything else. the same goes for passengers. are they comfortable enough? was that braking too hard? even just shifting gears becomes a little cause of worry. i'm sure one day i will find the joy in sharing these things with others, but not at the moment. this is not to say i don't like riding with people, or taking passengers, but it's a different mindset. a different kind of enjoyment. it's not that same freedom i had on the road a year ago.

people often ask me why i don't combine different aspects of my life. i have several different passions that occasionally, but not frequently, overlap. i write for the theatre, i play hurling, i ride bikes. people are always asking when i'm going to write a play about hurling, or what type of inspiration i've gotten on my motorcycle trips. but they are different parts of my life, and i like keeping them separate. they have different energies, different attitudes. i find different aspects of my personality coming out depending on what i'm doing. and that's ok. they all create a (mostly) complete picture, clear and in focus. and i like that picture. i don't want it running together, getting messy, blurry. i like clean lines. i like the distinction.

ok, we got a little philosophical there for a minute. more flashbacks from my trip. it happens occasionally.

until next time,



Saturday, September 8, 2012

thoughts on parking

i've had some interested parking experiences over the past few weeks. nothing with vixen, but recently i've been secondhand witness to some, shall we say, less-than-intelligent choices when it comes to motorcycle parking.

first, let us discuss hills. i live in seattle. hills are a fact of life. my neighborhood is a hill. so is the neighborhood next to mine. if you are planning on riding a motorcycle in seattle, you had best learn how to park on a hill. or a car, for that matter. how many people actually remember which way you're supposed to turn the wheel when parking on a hill? (hint: if the brakes fail, the car should roll toward the curb.) it should be simple logic, but i rarely see it in action.

with motorcycles, the logic is similar. when you park a bike, you put it's full weight on the kickstand (usually a sidestand). the kickstand is spring-loaded to flip toward the back of the bike, meaning if you roll the bike forward, the kickstand will disengage and flip up. now transfer this logic to parking on a hill. if your bike begins to roll, which way do you want the bike (and kickstand) to be facing? some people merely park perpendicular to the slope which, while not the worst option, is certainly not the best. if the kickstand is on the hill-side, your bike won't be much at an angle and it is more likely to topple over down the hill. if it's on the slope-side, the angle is usually too extreme, also chancing a topple. i see both of these on a regular basis. again, usually not a problem, but not the wisest idea.

and then there are people like today. i was on queen anne hill (yet another neighborhood named after one) when i saw a gorgeous, relatively new Honda Shadow decked out with chrome, molded saddlebags, the works, parked facing down the hill. there was no one around it, no vehicles nearby, but it was sitting, angled downhill, resting precariously on its sidestand. seriously tempting fate. i couldn't help but wonder who would willingly leave their bike in such a risky position. do they realize that the slightest bump could send their shiny new bike careening down one of the steepest hills in the city? probably not. it just doesn't occur to some people.

and this brings us to my next parking issue: cars. now, for the most part i have no issue parking my bike. i can almost always find space, in a legal spot, while keeping a proper distance from other vehicles. it's one of the reasons i love having a bike, living where i do. and one of the reasons i don't have a car. i suck at parking cars. i failed parallel parking in driver's ed. it's OK, though, because i don't drive one on a regular basis. other people, however, are constantly searching for that ever elusive parking space, especially on capitol hill (the seattle slope i call home). parking only slightly easier to find than a narwhal (it's downstairs from the unicorn), and when people find anything that can be half-called a space, they jump at it. this can lead to some dicey situations when you mix vehicles on a single block.

for instance, on my block we usually have anywhere from 4-8 bikes parked on any given day. and we usually manage to carve ourselves a niche on the curb where bikes can pull in and out, without giving enough space for a car. usually. there is always a time, however, when one too many bikes leaves, tipping the balance and opening up a spot for a car. this can get awkward, having a compact sandwiched on both sides by motorcycles. i'm sure i'm not the only biker that glares at these cars, just waiting for them to leave so we can reclaim our territory. it can also turn ugly. at this moment there is a subaru that decided to park in one of these spaces. the car fit, technically, but only physically. practically, not so much. one of the bikes currently on the block is covered at the moment, and the subaru's rear bumper is literally scraping the bike's cover. that means it is within an inch of the bike itself. not cool. add in the fact that the bike happens to be leaning away from the car, and you end up with an impossible scenario. if the bike wanted to get out, it would be trapped. not only is the car pinning the cover to the bike, but it's impossible to stand the bike up with the car in its current location. now, call me a prude, but i think if your parking job makes it impossible for those around you to access and/or move their vehicles, that is a parking fail. plain and simple. i think this car should be ticketed.

it also gets worse. a few months back we had another car that attempted to fit in one of these spaces and ended up hitting and knocking over two bikes in the row (including a sweet pimped-out vintage Vespa). this car didn't even feel the need to move, meaning the bikes couldn't even be picked up properly, since there wasn't room with where the car was. to make matters worse, this is a car that lives on our block. i am paranoid every time i have to park near it.

this is unfortunately one of the hazards of street parking for motorcycles, and a reality of living in the city. i should really invest in some sliders (chassis protectors that prevent a bike from falling directly on it's engine). until then, i'll just keep glaring at cars that park poorly and looking for safe harbor next to my fellow bikers.