Thursday, January 31, 2013

Law of Attraction and Motorcycle Practice

2005 Harley Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide
2005 Harley Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide
Thoughts of crashing yet again haunted my mind, causing me to worry and overthink as I prepared to let out the clutch and give it some gas.

It was March of 2006, and I just had the pins removed from my right wrist after spending three months with a cast all the way up my arm. I couldn't wait to ride again.

I hadn't ridden my Yamaha Road Star for over three months. In fact, I hadn't ridden at all for over three months. I wondered if I had lost anything from the hiatus.

But it wasn't the Yamaha I crashed.  My first wife had fallen in love with a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic because of how luxurious the passenger amenities were. The seat was comfy, the foot positioning was ideal, and the back padding provided great support. On top of that, there was a spacious Tour-Pak and hard bags for all of her stuff. So I decided to buy it.

That bike lasted only a week before I totaled it in January 2006. It was black cherry in color. I didn't even think to take a photograph of it, that's how new it was.

I had ridden it just outside of Pioneertown, CA, just near the intersection of Pioneertown Rd and Pipes Canyon Rd, when I came to a dip. There was about 6 inches of water flowing through it due to snow melt from the nearby San Bernardino Mountains. I didn't expect to find water. When I came upon the dip, I was startled by it, and applied the brakes too hard. I hit the water and lost control of my bike, and flew off high side.

2004 Yamaha Road Star
My 2004 Yamaha Road Star
The nice thing about having two motorcycles is that when one of them gets totaled, you still have a backup to ride. So after the cast had finally come off of my arm, and the insurance company took the Harley away, there was still the Yamaha Road Star wagging its tail with its tongue sticking out, waiting to go for a ride.

But after having nursed a broken wrist for three months, and having replayed the motorcycle crash in my head a few dozen times, I wondered if I could still ride with confidence.

It didn't take long. Just a few of miles riding through town, and it seemed as if I hadn't lost a thing.

It was just my own doubts that had plagued me.

You never lose your ability to ride, you only lose your confidence. The fear clouds your thinking and causes you to overreact. You find yourself fumbling over a mental checklist of things to do, trying so hard to not forget something. All the while, you could have believed in your abilities, believed in success, and allow that belief to guide you.

Memory of that day I took my first ride following the accident was with me yesterday when I watched Sash ride her Kawasaki Ninja 500R through a parking lot in downtown by Petco Park. She was practicing still. She actually has her motorcycle endorsement, and is already legally allowed to ride on public roads. However, after crashing my Yamaha Road Star, and taking a 6-month hiatus from riding, she was concerned about still being able to ride.

And she dropped her Ninja twice the first time she tried riding it, injuring her knee. So, imagine how tense and worried she was practicing at the parking lot.

motorcycle parking lot practice
Sash practicing on her Kawasaki Ninja 500r

She did awesome! She spent quite some time just idling along while feeding the clutch and finding the friction zone. Then I had her ride the bike in first gear for a few loops, and practice stopping smoothly.

Sash was still tense, of course.

But it was she who taught me that if you believe in success, success will come.

And that's the Law of Attraction. If you believe it, the Universe will make it happen. If you want it badly enough, you'll seize the opportunities.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park, MT

going to the sun road glacier national park
Going to the Sun Road, Glacier National Park, MT
Cold and icy were never words I associated with Heaven. I mean when I was a kid, I figured the higher up into the sky you went, the closer you got to the Sun.

Now as an adult, I realize as the elevation as increases, the atmosphere becomes more thin, dropping the temperature and improving our vision.  So if there was ever a way to ride a motorcycle to Heaven, "Going-to-the-Sun Road" might be the path.

At 6,646 feet, cresting over Logan Pass, it's still far from being the highest pavement in the world. But yet somehow, the pristine waters of Lake McDonald, the fresh mountain air, the deep blue skies, and the majesty of Heavens Peak, makes me question if the hand of God doesn't in fact touch you here.

It was July 2010 that I rode through Glacier National Park, Montana, where Going-to-the-Sun Road serves as the primary thoroughfare. It's 53 miles of two-lane twisties, but a very narrow two-lane road at that. As you make your way up to Logan Pass, the roads gets tore up, wet with melting snow pack (in the middle of Summer), and fauna crossing your path.


Passing "The Loop", a hairpin switchback that winds its way up towards Haystack Butte, I found a turnout where I could get a panoramic view of half-pipe valleys carved into the Continental Divide by ancient glaciers. I could almost hear the "hum" of the Universe, ringing off the metamorphic rock, channeling down into my thoughts.

I've never believed in Heaven, at least not the Heaven that Christians perpetuate. But with the way the sun shines so brightly through the clean air, reflected by the snow covered mountains, it's almost like finding that brilliant white light that people describe seeing in near-death experiences. How mountain goats and rocky mountain sheep step down to the road to greet travelers, I wonder if here they recognize us as brothers in Nature, as opposed to Human Beings?

Having a spiritual moment just as this is not often common during my travels, for the most part I'm really doing the opposite, thinking and philosophizing. If anything, Glacier National Park makes me feel closer to the Universe, as if I've returned from humanity back into one its children.

going to the sun road motorcycle

Going-to-the-Sun Road was named for nearby Going-to-the-Sun Mountain, which according to Blackfeet Indians, had once been a spirit from the Sun that had come down to teach them to hunt. Before "going back to the sun", he cast his image on the mountain to remind them.

I could only think of how ancient people had once traveled up here, to touch the mountain and draw a piece of that old spirit into their souls. I can understand how they, having never been exposed to organized religion, church bureaucracies, and theocratic governments, could obtain their own sense of spirituality by climbing up the mountain, and allowing the majesty of the land to claim them.

Somehow, there's something pristine and unadulterated about a belief in God, whatever you perceive God to be, if it wells up into you on its own, from the very piece of land you stand on. That's a spiritual connection to something tangible. The Sun, the Air, the Water, the Mountains, all coalescing into a single organism, and then drawing me inside to make me its own, gives me that sense of arrival.

rocky mountain goatswaterfall on the road

As I crested over Logan Pass, and descended down the other side, it felt like Going-to-the-Sun Road was now sending me away. I would now return to humanity, to my own intellect, feeling the asphalt, and feeling my motorcycle. Views of the trees, lakes, and mountains just didn't seem to interest me anymore. My mind had shifted to exiting out of the Park, and finding a place to sleep the night.

There were no rooms available in the nearby town of Browning, MT. However, a bed & breakfast owner did offer me a camp spot by a small beaver pond out back. I pitched my tent, watched the sun set, and listened to the splash of the beaver's tail.  I began scribbling out a journal entry (which you can read here).

I suppose not being religious in the classical sense, yet still very willing to believe, I've managed to develop a sense of spirituality from my motorcycle travels. If I can just remove all ideas of Church, Scripture, and Righteousness from my head, and immerse myself into the grandeur of the land, I feel so much more connected to my creator.

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Pumice Desert, Crater Lake National Park, OR

Something about The Pumice Desert causes one to stop and appreciate the beauty of something so empty and desolate within an otherwise thick carpet of trees.

Lying in the middle of Highway 138, inside Oregon's Crater Lake National Park, the Pumice Desert was created by some 200 feet of volcanic ash after an eruption of Mount Mazama nearly 7,700 years ago.

The lack of nutrients in the soil prevented anything from growing back.

Today, the Pumice Desert remains as a scar that may never heal on an otherwise spectacular geography.

Just walking out into the middle of the field and then standing still, I felt a sense of personification, as if Crater Lake National Park was an old man nursing a wound from his childhood that never went away.

I know some people who are like that.  Overwhelmed by a load of burden placed upon them by others, and then criticized when that load topples over, they languish in their shame and guilt, forgetting to see how beautiful they are everywhere else.

the pumice desert
The Pumice Desert, Crater Lake National Park, OR, June 2006, with my Yamaha Road Star
But much of Highway 138 cuts through thick woods, and while it's nice to see tall trees, you can only appreciate them for so long until you get bored.  Hence, coming upon a place as empty and dead as The Pumice Desert actually provides a sense of amazement, proving that something as lifeless and empty can still be a sight for sore eyes.

It makes me think about how we as humans grow up with success and failure, joy and hurt, pride and humiliation.  The opposing experiences creates conflicts inside us as if we're a rope being pulled from both ends.

And isn't it the scars that make us proud of our finer points? Isn't the pain and hurt that makes us appreciate our joys and triumphs?  Without emptiness we can never define fulfillment.  Without death we can't appreciate life.

highway through tall trees
If our road in life is flanked by hundreds of miles of pristine pines, we wouldn't see much at all. The road becomes a tunnel with our eyes fixed on one tiny point ahead of us. The little details to the left and right blend together into a blur that passes by unnoticed.

It makes us sink into one continual feeling, like a machine over an assembly line that runs at a constant speed, creating a rhythm of stagnant noise that we can't shut our ears from.  We yearn for an opposing emotion, just to feel alive and exhilarated, even if'painful.

It was rather cold when I rode through here in June of 2006.  Much of central Oregon had been warm when I rode south along US 97.  I guess even the cold, wet conditions at Crater Lake was a welcome reprieve.

And Crater Lake National Park is like that, offering a motorcycle rider a change of pace when traveling through Oregon, with its amazing views of the lake and the twisties along the rim.  The high elevation at 8,000 feet leaves banks of snow on either side of Highway 138 making for more unusual riding.

Remember to visit the Crater Lake Lodge and get yourself something warm to eat.

From there, head south to Klamath Falls for some small town relaxation.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Riding Off Into the Cloud

wyoming highway 220 motorcycle
Computers have a been a significant part of my world since I was 14 years old. In the 1980s, my step-father had networked some 8 different UNIX workstations throughout our house under this Utopian idea that our entire lives would become dependent on them.

Mom would store all her recipes into a program. Step-father eagerly catalogued every gardening magazine into a database. I would compose homework on the word processor. Brother would play his video games on them. And each of us could remain in our own area of the house e-mailing each other.

But back then, computing was all local. Even with networks, you typically had a server in house, with workstations tied to it via wire. There was no such thing as "the cloud".

If all of our communication, data, productivity, and entertainment was stored on a single server, then what happens if we can't get to a workstation?

You're screwed. Network computing still couldn't offer much mobility.

Unfortately, in the 1980s, we didn't have the Internet. The only way to access a server remotely was via telephone, and they were landline phones back then, requiring a modem. Not very conducive to traveling.

The Utopia my step-father envisioned for our house never caught on, despite a good faith effort from each of us.

Today, my world has become increasingly transient.

I want less stuff and fewer possessions. I don't want anything that ties me down to a physical location. That's what homeownership was for me, a shackle and chain that required me to be there, mowing the lawn, cleaning the air filters, paying the bills.

You can see why I love motorcycles. It represents freedom for me. I could get the same transient lifestyle from a car, but a car is larger, more costly, and somehow feels like I have more to manage.

Now, there's cloud computing.

The locally hosted server that once hosted all of our data, facilitated our communication, ran all of our software, and provided us with entertainment, is now mirrored across hundreds of servers spanning the Earth. What's more, is that it's cross-platform, so that my cell phone, laptop, and tablet, all can access it flawlessly.

The Utopia is here now.

And just how much more freedom does that give a motorcycle rider like me, who runs his own Internet business?

A great deal.

So, why do I even bother to live in the same place for more than a month? Why do I even bother to own furniture?

I can understand that most people need to feel grounded. They need neighbors and friends they see each week. They need the familiarity and predictability of the same restaurant, the same streets, and the same weather patterns.

I just never wanted that. I didn't grow up with a close family. I didn't have close friends. We always moved around a lot, and I had to change schools often. When you grow up this way, you feel unattached. You need to keep moving.

wyoming highway 220 motorcycle
Wyoming, Highway 220


If anything, and as much as I hate to admit, but Facebook is perfect. I can meet people in person, get to know them a little, and then just follow them online. I don't need to keep seeing them each week.

I guess even my friends are stored on the cloud.

If people never live in the same place for more than a month and change towns each time, what does that do a society?  Do we bother to make friends knowing that we won't be around?  Will we still join clubs, make commitments, or make large purchases?  Will be become more diverse, or will we feel more empty?

How much of a ghost am I if I'm not grounded? If I enter into a town, stay there for a couple of weeks, and continue on, perhaps people only catch me out of the corner of their eye, and then I disappear, hitting the highway yet again, just watching the world go by, living off the cloud.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Religious Right of Motorcycling

One can even argue that Harley-Davidson is a religion unto itself.

If you compare Catholicism to The Motor Company, it's just as fanatical and pagan...

  • The Vatican vs Milwaukee, WI
  • Catholic Diocese and Cathedral.  HOG Chapter and Harley Dealer.
  • Catholics wear crucifixes.  Harley riders wear H-D symbols.
  • Catholics pay penance.  Harley riders pay Gap Insurance.
  • Catholics collect rosaries.  Harley riders collect dealer t-shirts.
  • The Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Uncle Sam, Willie G. Davidson, and Jax Teller.
But the truth is that anything can be a religion.  You just have to have a book, a leader to rally around, some elders to preach the masses, and some fanatical followers.

I look across the world of motorcycling and wonder how much am I into a religion.  Albeit not Harley-Davidson, at least not anymore.  But a two-wheeled religion in general, kinda like how Catholicism is part of a larger umbrella of Christianity.

Countless riders across countless motorcycle forums refer to car drivers as "cagers" or "idiots" as if somehow they're less skilled and less observant on the road.  Riders often speak of the "brotherhood" as if we're all closer together just because we all ride motorcycles.  I mean, you never see a biker waving his hand at a cager.

But because we all ride motorcycles, somehow that makes us all "in it together", like some kind of war we're battling against the four-wheeled forces of evil.

Yet when we're all getting our fill at the local biker hangout, riders don't seem to want to wave their hand at each other anymore.  It's only when we spot each other on the road that we take the time to acknowledge one another.

And then we knock each other for riding Metric versus American, cruiser versus sport bike, motorcycle versus scooter.

I've never said anything against riders who go ATGATT, so why do they label me "squid" just because I ride without a jacket?

I guess it's like how Baptists knock Mormons, or how born-again Christians knock Catholics.  All of Jesus' followers can't seem to see the forest for the trees, being more concerned with how much more "holy" they are than others.

Harley riders often chide me because I don't ride a "real motorcycle".  Well, I used to ride a "real motorcycle" for many years, until I got so tired and poor from having to repair the damn thing.  Going on nearly three years, my Honda has been reliable, and that speaks volumes for me.

wynola road motorcycle
Wynola Rd, Wynola, CA
I wouldn't so much mind thinking of other motorcycle riders and even motorcycle bloggers as my "brothers", except I just never grew up with the feeling of being part of a family.  Even in the company of friends, and in various riding clubs, I've felt alone.  I like to think of motorcycle riders as people who don't otherwise conform to society or "play well with others", and just haunt the highways like ghosts who watch the world at 70mph, and never put down roots anywhere.

The fact is that if I met another rider at a coffee shop, I sit down with him or her and have a good time trading war stories from the road.  I'd actually like to assemble for a meeting of the minds and a few good pints with local riders.

But being an active part of some group always seems to evade me.  Sure, I've put down good faith efforts into the riding clubs I was in, as well as the motorcycle meetup group I ran, but that never got me any feeling of family, just a lot of headaches and schoolyard squabbling.

As soon as it starts to taste like Kool-Aid, I just want to spit it out.

So to all my motorcycle riding brothers and sisters out there, forgive me when I don't eschew the notion that cagers are idiots, or if I don't feel like waving back.  I don't want to argue over American versus Metric and I don't want to hear that I'm going to die if I don't wear ATGATT.

I just want to be free to do what I want.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Philosophy of Passing Over the Double Yellow

Considering the concept that one's perception of reality is based on one's perception of him/herself, it makes me wonder if I can change my reality by changing my view of myself.

What the #$*! Do We Know!? is an interesting documentary I watched the other night on Netflix. It's largely based on the teachings of Ramtha (JZ Knight). I don't know much about Ramtha, but I always find it entertaining to exercise concepts.

When you consider that emotions are just hormones released by the brain into our blood system, and subsequently absorbed into our cells, our cells become conditioned to receiving these hormones. That is, it's a chemical addiction that our body learns to crave. As cells divide, newer cells are more adapted to capturing these hormones.

The more time you spend feeling guilty, the more your body craves the feeling of guilt. Hence, that becomes your perception of reality. Everything you see, hear, touch, is all filtered by your body's need to feel guilty.

As I'm riding my motorcycle along a twisty road through hillsides and canyons, my eyes pick up a million pieces of information. But I may only perceive 20 pieces at any given second. For one, moving at an average of 50mph limits my ability to perceive, but two, how I see myself as an individual filters what I perceive.

I think about passing a slower-moving car in front of me. But I take notice of the double-yellow line and think twice about doing so. I look in my rear view mirror and see no cops. I look ahead and I see no on-coming cars. I take notice of upcoming curves and try to assess the safety of passing this guy.

Finally, I pull the trigger, twist the throttle and make my pass. All the while, I'm looking ahead down the road for any oncoming vehicles, until I move back into my lane.

Then I ease off on the throttle, and look in my rear view mirror at the guy I just passed, just in case he's pissed at me.

For me, being a law-abiding citizen is important, though not always the highest priority. Intellectually, I don't want trouble with the law. But emotionally, I find it alluring.  In the earlier part of my childhood, I went through a lot of physical abuse at the hands of my mother.  I didn't want my mother to beat me, but I grew up in a pattern of guilt and punishment.  My body became conditioned towards wanting this fix.

Hence, it all explains why I took notice of that double-yellow line.  I see it as an opportunity.

passing over the double yellow line

Someone else who sees himself as more important, who doesn't care about confrontation, and who may not even recognize boundaries, probably won't even know there is a double-yellow line there. All he may see is that there is someone in his way, and that someone is an "idiot" who needs to be laid to waste.

Had I not passed over the double yellow, I would have gotten to my destination a little bit more late, but I would've felt on edge, and more than likely would seek to get my fix some other way.

And if you ask Sash about this, she'll tell you that feelings of guilt can only accumulate for so long until the need for punishment takes over. At that point, what my eyes and ears perceive become filtered, yet again, looking to push her over the edge, just as I used to do with my mother.

So what about the motorcycle rider who decides to remain behind the slow-moving car? What's their hangup? Maybe he or she wants to feel meager, wants to feel like a sheep? Maybe these people seek out other slow-moving vehicles just so that they can remain stuck behind them?

Anyway, it's an interesting documentary with interesting ideas.

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Friday, January 11, 2013

Naming Your Motorcycle

Well it's always refreshing to ride a different motorcycle. The different seating position, the different weight, height and wheelbase, the different everything.

We picked up this 2006 Kawasaki Ninja 500R from a guy about 3 hours north of us. It had 11,000+ miles on it, but still looked and ran like new. It came with an extra windshield and a matching 3/4 helmet, for $2,400.00 USD.

2006 kawasaki ninja 500r

This bike, of course, is for Sash.

The idea of her riding it home entered my mind, but considering she hadn't ridden anything for the last several months, perhaps as much as a year, it probably wasn't a good idea. I did, however, offer to ride it to a parking lot somewhere and let her try it out, but it was already getting late and the temperatures were only going to get more chilly from here. So I rode it back home.

Sash named the bike, "Katie Scarlet", which apparently is the name that Scarlet O'Hara was called in Gone with the Wind. I suppose it's fitting, considering that's what Sash want to do (disappear into the wind).

I guess she didn't like my suggestion, "Rat Fingers".

So, in following up on my last article about the scratches and dings we collect on our motorcycles, and how they reflect memories and experiences of riding, the fact that many of us give names to our motorcycles suggest a next logical step, that they're real, live beings.

It probably took me a couple of years to name my Honda ST1300 "Blackbird", only because it took that long for me to feel a kinship to it. It wasn't until Sash asked me what name I had given it that I finally settled on a name.

"Blackbird", I told her.

"Oh, that's a nice name", she said. "Blackbird!".

"Yeah, but I'm reluctant to name it that, because Honda actually makes a bike called "Blackbird", and I don't want people to keep pointing that out.

But, I like the idea of my motorcycle being a bird, and it's colored black. So, Blackbird it became.

Sash, on the other hand, named her bike the moment we brought it home, without ever having ridden it yet. It was already her baby and little girl. Perhaps it has something to do with motherhood and unconditional love, who knows.

My Yamaha Road Star I had named, "Roadie". Not very original, I know.

My Ultra Classic Electra Glide I had named, "Battlecruiser". It was more a of joke in reference to all the electronics and fairings the Ultra comes with.

Somehow we as riders develop an emotional or spiritual connection to our motorcycles, whether it takes several years or just a few minutes.  For me, it's stems from the "we're in this together" mentality when we're on a lonely road, a hundred miles from the next town. I'm no more a master of my motorcycle as I am a slave.  I may control the throttle and turn the handle bars, but I depend on Blackbird to run reliably and get me where I want to go.

For that, there is a level of respect I have in her, and with that I gave her a name.

Anyway, the Ninja 500 should be a good starter bike for Sash.

If you follow Sash's Blog, you'll know more about it.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

To Hell and Back On A Motorcycle

cracked motorcycle mirror
Had I had a chance to do it over, I would've hopped on Blackbird from the right instead of the left. Instead, my momentum tipped the bike over on its right, dropping it over on the shoulder.

I knew I shouldn't have parked the bike here.

The shoulder was uneven such that when I put the kickstand down and dismounted, the bike remained standing at a 90 degree angle, with no lean. Not wanting to leave it that way, I hopped right back on, which pushed the bike over to its right. I put my right foot down, but the wet ground was slick, and I lost traction. Blackbird kept going over and I couldn't save her.

The result was cracked mirror, broken mirror housing, cracked engine guard cover, and scrapes to the right saddle bag. Probably close to a $1,000.00 damage just for tipping it over.

I've since replaced the mirror and the mirror housing, but opted to leave the broken engine guard cover and right saddle bag as they are.

I still look at the cracks and scrapes and remember the incident as if it were only yesterday. It was raining fairly hard along Highway 36 through Trinity County, CA, on a March afternoon, 2011. Snow blanketed the sides along Horse Ridge, about 4,000 feet up. Brian wanted to stop to get a photograph of the bikes against the snow.

I just picked a bad place to park, that's all.

Replacing a busted mirror stands to reason, but I just didn't want to fork over the money to replace the other parts just because they're scuffed or cracked. As long as they work.

Somehow, I've become attached to the memories, even the bad ones. Heck, memories of me dropping my ST are not really bad anyway. But without the scratches, cracks, dents, and other blemishes, there wouldn't be any interesting stories to tell. They'd all be about sunshine and pretty flowers.

Even if I did have the money, I wouldn't want to erase the cracks and scratches. Blackbird and I have logged a lot of miles together, and that includes the right saddle bag and engine guard cover. Where other guys take pride in how perfect and cherry their bikes are, I kinda like showing off her old battle scars.

For a guy like me who grew up with little family, holding on to these blemishes somehow comforts me. They're my memories, they're my travels, and my bike is part of my family.

There's something humbling in seeing an old gray-haired biker whose motorcycle has as many scrapes and dents as his body has scars and limps. Going to Hell and back and then telling folks about the journey seems pretty cool. His old weathered and faded jacket smelling of old sweat and bug splatter is a canvass painted with the same memories.

It's only when you add the tens of thousands of miles that these things absorb our spirits and become a part of us that you'll remember forever.

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About Steve

San Diego, CA-based motorcycle rider who likes long road trips, old rustic bars, craft beer, and tough women. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, writing about the mysteries of life. (Read more...)