Friday, May 21, 2010

Don't Ride Angry!!!

The ability to anticipate danger on the road is an important driving skill in a car or truck, but becomes a much more crucial skill for those who ride motorcycles. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Basic Rider Course, which I completed about two years ago, emphasized the importance of visually scanning the road ahead for potential traffic dangers.

Sometimes, there is an unseen, or "sixth" sense that helps us riders anticipate trouble, which Canajun, a fellow motorcycle blogger, wrote about in his recent post titled, "Listen to that voice in your ear ...." Even while driving my cage, there have been many times that I 'sensed' another driver was about to cut into my lane, several seconds before they actually did. Maybe they seemed jumpy or fidgety, and I sensed they were about to make an abrupt lane change. Whatever the case, my being ready for such a possibility, by slowing down or changing lanes, has averted many close calls, if not accidents.

Riding under the influence of alcohol greatly increases the chances of an accident, but there are other factors that can impair one's ability to ride safely, such as hypothermia, being dehydrated or being tired.

But one factor is often overlooked - the emotional factor. My MSF handbook includes emotions as an impairment. "It is not easy to determine the personal effects of emotions on riding, but experts recognize that feeling angry, troubled or stressed makes safe, responsible riding more difficult," the handbook states. "Any emotion that distracts your attention away from being fully attentive ... will increase risk."

In his most recent blog entry, Canajun wrote that our sixth sense or "little voice" inside our heads that can keep us out of trouble is fragile. "The slightest impairment, whether caused by exhaustion, stress, alcohol, drugs, or even an overabundance of testosterone, will see it shut down and go into hibernation, leaving the rider without that most important yet usually over-looked defence."

His blog, posted on Tuesday, was timely, because the day before that, I had a wake-up call that drove that point home. I thank God I didn't have to learn the hard way, as I am still here typing on my keyboard.

I had a very frustrating day at work, the kind of day that, in the past, I would have downed a 12-pack of beer to drown my frustration (fortunately, I didn't ride back then). But, having been sober for nearly a year and a half, drinking my stress away is no longer an option.

Now that I ride, I have another option to cope with a stressful day. But, perhaps, I was a little TOO stressed to be on my motorcycle. I went riding around 4 p.m., when the afternoon rush was peaking and there were still school buses. Tired of riding at 25 mph, I sought a road with higher speed limits, Route 2. I rode on Route 2 North through South Kingstown and Exeter, and life was good, until I stopped for a red light at the intersection with Route 102. I waited and waited and waited for the light to turn green so I could turn left, but the light did not change. Apparently, my bike would not trigger whatever sensor or mechanism that makes the light change, and there were no cars behind me to trigger it either. My frustration began to mount and I had to get moving, so I decided to make a right turn on red onto Route 102 South. But, I did it at nearly full-throttle. Now, that is bad enough, but there was a long line of traffic heading north on 102, approaching that intersection, plus a convenience store.

Somehow, I barely made out the top of the roof of a car that was attempting to pull out of the convenience store, sneak through two lanes of backed-up traffic on the nortbound side, and pull into the southbound lanes, where I was rapidly accelerating. I am guessing I was going between 50 and 60 mph before I let off the throttle and jammed on my brakes. The young female driver of that car had not yet pulled out onto my lane, but - if she had been less cautious and did pull out ahead of me - chances are very good I would not be typing this now, but in a hospital bed or worse. It wasn't technically a close call or a near-miss, but it could very easily have turned into a tragedy, and my "overabundance of testosterone," as Canajun puts it, was solely to blame.

Monday, May 17, 2010

2010 Laconia Prayer Ride

Admittedly, I was not well prepared for this trip. On Friday, the day before the ride, I installed a windshield on my bike. It was on my bike when I bought it, but I had taken it off because I hated how it looked. But, with a lot of highway riding ahead of me, it would be nice to have a windshield, I reasoned. Fortunately, I was smart enough to take a test ride with the windshield on Friday night, rather than waiting until the day of my trip to New Hampshire. The low windshield took the strain off my upper body alright, but caused so much turbulence on my helmet and goggles that I felt like a bobble-head, so I removed the shield.

Anna wanted to come on this trip, but, as of 9:00 Friday night, was unable to confirm a babysitter, despite trying for several days. Since this was a long trip, there was uncertainty as to when we would return to Rhode Island, so we decided she would sit this one out.

Saturday morning, I was off to a late start. I was slightly panicked as I rode alone to our first rendezvous point at the Lincoln Mall McDonald's, but I arrived in time. A group comprised of 10 members of our Romans 8 Riders chapter, plus some members of the Kingdom Kruzers chapter, rode up Route 146 north into Massachusetts, then on to Interstates 290, then 495, then 93 into New Hampshire, to our next rendezvous point at the Tilt'n Diner, in Tilton, N.H.

The weather was fairly warm and partly-to-mostly sunny, but windy, and after getting pelted with sand, I resolved to make a larger windshield my next upgrade. More so than wind, though, pollen was my nemesis. I forgot to take an antihistamine, so my nose and eyes constantly watered, and, every time we stopped, I had sneezing fits. Sue Caron even noticed that one of my eyelids was swollen.

Tilt'n Diner was where members of several chapters of the Christian Motorcyclists Association converged for lunch before riding to Laconia. I sat at the counter of the 1950s-style diner next to Ed Kershaw, who recommended the turkey sandwich with stuffing and cranberry sauce. After finishing the sandwich, Ed told our waitress it was excellent. "It's just like Thanksgiving," he remarked.

"Without having to deal with the in-laws," I quipped, eliciting a laugh from Ed.

Tilt'n Diner sits at a busy intersection just off the highway, but police blocked traffic as our group of about 50 motorcycles left the diner. Police also stopped traffic at several intersections, making for a smooth ride to Laconia, where we parked at a Methodist church, just a short walk to Winnipesaukee Pier, where we formed two circles and prayed for God to prepare the hearts of CMA members and bikers who would be attending Laconia Bike Week next month. "Our best testimony as Christians is our witness what Jesus has done in our lives," one female CMA member said. After a briefing back at the church, the CMA chapters split up for their respective rides home.

Romans 8 Riders vice president Roland Caron wanted to see his son, Jeff, who was at a truck show at Hampton Beach, N.H., so we agreed to take a side trip there, instead of riding straight back to Rhode Island. We rode east on some scenic roads, and some congested roads. While we were stopped underneath an overpass, I couldn't resist revving my bike to hear the roar of the open pipes echoing. Manny's wife, Denise, turned around and smiled, and Bob Levesque said, "That sounds like Pastor Joe's pipes," referring to Joe's old Sportster, the Red Baron, which was prematurely retired after it was rear-ended by a car (Joe was okay). We also rode through some rotaries en route to Hampton Beach, an oceanfront resort town, where we had to stop and turn around a couple times before we found the location of the truck show, at a beach front state park.

After Roland's son met us in the parking lot, we rested in the beach pavilion and quenched our thirst with some sodas. No Romans 8 Riders road trip would be complete without a stop for lunch or dinner (today we had both), so our next major decision was where we would eat dinner. At first, the group decided on a seafood restaurant in Hampton Beach, but when we found it, it was apparently out of business. We then decided to get on the highway and stop at an Applebee's restaurant in Seabrook, N.H.

By the time we finished dinner, it was dusk. We decided to return on Interstate 95, but our group got separated in traffic on Route 128 before we were due to split off. Fortunately, the people in the group that was behind - Cameron, me, Bob Levesque and Ed - were riding into Rhode Island together anyway. After having had dinner and some coffee, I felt slightly refreshed, but my fatigue quickly caught up with me on the highway. My helmet felt heavy on my head, and the ride home seemed like it was taking forever. But once we reached the East Street exit in Dedham, Mass. (where my uncle lives), I knew where I was and had a reference point, which gave me a psychological boost. We caught a brief rain shower after exiting onto Interstate 95 in Norwood, Mass., but it passed quickly. The four of us rode to Interstate 295 south, where there was less traffic, and then Bob and Ed exited onto Route 14. Cam and I continued riding on 295 and then 95 south, exiting onto Route 138 in Richmond.

I arrived home after 10:30 p.m., having logged a total of 426 miles that day - my personal record to date. Plus, I get to add a new state to the small, but growing list of states I've ridden in (see the map at the bottom of my blog).

Monday, May 10, 2010

Saying Farewell to My First Bike

I'd been postponing it for several weeks, but yesterday, I finally sold my 1987 Yamaha Virago 535. Although I haven't ridden the Virago much since buying my 2002 Harley-Davidson Wide Glide earlier this year, part of me was reluctant to part with the Yamaha. Call me sentimental ... after all, it was my first bike and served me well as a newbie rider.

I bought the Virago in February 2009, with only 3,015 miles on the odometer, for $1,000. The one-owner bike still had the original tires, but they were dry-rotted, so I immediately spent another $400 to put new tires on it. I then proceeded to ride the daylights out of it as soon as I registered it, even though it was cold that March. I put about 6,500 miles on it by the end of last year, and added a passenger backrest and luggage rack to the bike.

When I bought my Harley at the beginning of this year, I had two bikes parked side-by-side in my garage. At first, I thought I might keep the Yamaha as a backup or 'spare' bike, but then I figured that selling the Yamaha would fund some nice upgrades to my Harley. The latter thought won out.

After replacing a broken turn signal and mirror on the Yamaha about a month ago, I began the process of detailing the bike. I always took good care of it mechanically, but let's just say I spent more time riding it than cleaning it. I think I washed it maybe twice last riding season. So about two weeks ago, I began the detailing process with a good washing. I worked on the bike an hour or two at a time over the last several days, polishing the paint and chrome, cleaning the wheels and spokes and using a product called "Back to Black" by Mothers to renew black plastic and rubber parts. Then I rode the bike to a parking lot to take the digital photos I would use in the Craigslist ad.

I first posted my ad on Wednesday and got no response. I re-posted the ad on Friday, with the same asking price, $1,500. This time, I got three responses by email and another three by phone, but no one made firm plans to actually look at the bike. So, I rode it to my girlfriend Anna's house Friday night, since it was a nice night and I was overdue for a ride. Being a thoughtful guy, I brought an extra helmet, figuring she would want to go for a quick, local ride.

"I'm so much closer to you on this bike," said Anna, who is used to riding on the back of my much-larger Harley instead.

On Saturday, I got a call from a guy named Geoff, who seemed interested in the bike and wanted to see it. It had rained pretty heavily overnight, so I was still at Anna's house. I had Geoff meet me at a nearby Walgreens parking lot that afternoon. Luckily, by then, the rain had stopped and it was beginning to clear up. Geoff arrived with his girlfriend, who was just learning how to ride a motorcycle. She sat on the bike and liked that her feet easily touched the ground. Geoff, an experienced rider, had brought his helmet and I let him take my bike for a short ride. He liked how the bike handled, and after his girlfriend gave the thumbs-up, said he wanted to buy it.

I had them follow me as I rode the bike back to my apartment late Saturday afternoon. By now, the sun was out and it was rather pleasant riding. But it was a bittersweet ride, because I knew it was probably the last time I would be on the Yamaha. I rode it leisurely, enjoying the smooth, quiet predictability of Japanese engineering, in contrast to the blustery, less-refined Big Twin power of the Harley. Two different animals, indeed.

Back at my place, where I had all the paperwork for the bike, including the owner's manual, repair manual and service history (Geoff was impressed that I kept detailed records), I was just about to complete the bill of sale, when Geoff pulled out a check book, to my surprise. I had just assumed he would bring cash, so I followed him to an ATM, where he withdrew some cash and gave me a deposit until he could return the next day with the rest of the cash.

Geoff and his girlfriend returned yesterday afternoon, and I made sure everything was ready to go, down to checking the tire pressure. We talked for several minutes about the bike, and he sensed I was having a bit of separation anxiety.

"Sad to see it go?" Geoff asked.

"A little bit," I replied.

A few minutes later, I watched him as he rode the bike down my driveway and onto the street. It reminded me of when I used to visit my grandmother, and she always watched me drive away, visibly sad to see me go.

But, I did feel better selling the bike to people who are into motorcycles. Geoff said that after his girlfriend outgrows the bike, he will probably keep it for his daughter, who also wants to learn to ride someday.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

25th Annual R.I. Blessing of the Bikes

I had heard about this event, billed as the largest bike blessing in New England, but was unable to attend last year. So, this year, I made it a point to attend. Let's just say anyone who rides a motorcycle should experience it at least once.

The event, organized by the Rhode Island chapter of the Hells Angels motorcycle club, is held in a large trucking yard on Shipyard Street, near the Port of Providence. According to the club's web site, more than 6,500 motorcycles and about 9,000 people attended the event on Sunday, May 2. In addition to the blessing, there were food and merchandise vendors, caterers and a band.

It was an opportunity to see all kinds of motorcycles - from Harleys to metrics, stock to custom - as well as colors of several motorcycle clubs from in and out of state. Being my first time at this event, I had no idea what to expect. I'd heard my brothers in the Romans 8 Riders chapter of the Christian Motorcyclists Association describe the event, but hearing it described and seeing it in person are two different things. For some reason, I thought our CMA chapter would be blessing bikes, but that was not the case. I didn't get to see the actual blessings, but I was told that a priest sprinkles holy water on the bikes as they ride by him.

Around 8 that morning, I met our Romans 8 Riders chapter president, Spike, and a few other chapter members on Allens Avenue before we rode to the blessing site to set up our tent among the vendors. It was overcast, windy and cool, but it became warmer and sunny by noon, which accounted for a bigger turnout than recent years, which had less than ideal weather, I was told.

Being one of New England's biggest bike events next to Laconia, the Blessing of the Bikes is like a reunion of sorts for bikers throughout the northeast, said my Romans 8 Riders brother, Cam. Friendships are developed as people see each other at these events over the years.

Although our CMA chapter does not bless the bikes at this event, just being allowed to set up a tent there with Christian literature a few years ago was significant, Spike said. In our earlier years there, CMA's presence was greeted with scorn by some attendees, I was told. But over time, consistent attendance earned respect and built relationships. Members of different motorcycle clubs greeted us and spoke with us, and I everyone I encountered while walking the grounds was respectful.

Throughout the day, members of our CMA chapter, as well as other chapters, stopped by our tent. In between enjoying conversation with my CMA brothers, I talked with a man who stopped by our tent who told me he has been sober for nearly eight years. I shared my testimony with him, telling him how my divorce led to my decision to become sober, which, for me, paved the way for me to begin a relationship with Jesus Christ.

In the background, I could hear the constant rumbling of motorcycles that sounded like never-ending thunder. Occasionally, I left the tent to walk around and view the vendors' booths or seemingly endless rows of parked motorcycles. I also enjoyed an excellent barbecued pork sandwich. But, as a first-time attendee, the most memorable part of the event for me was watching the continuous parade of motorcycles entering the gates and proceeding down Shipyard Street. My only regret was deciding to leave my camera at home.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Run for the Son Ride to Living Stone

To say I was excited about the Christian Motorcyclists Association's annual Run for the Son ride this year was an understatement. Anticipation for the run, which was Saturday, began about mid-week, when I saw the weather was supposed to be sunny and in the 70s. Even better news - my girlfriend, Anna, got a babysitter for her son, so she would be able to ride with me! On Friday, I got my bike ready: I washed it, gave the tins a quick polish and installed a luggage rack and roll bag, which would be perfect for a day trip. I also packed a lunch and essentials like sunscreen, digital camera and handy wipes.

This time, I was actually prepared the morning of the ride and was able to just hop on the bike without the stress of wondering if I would forget to bring something, or if I would be late. I rode to the commuter parking lot on Route 102 in North Kingstown, where Anna was waiting, and we were joined by my CMA/Romans 8 Riders brother Duke for the ride up to our first rendezvous point, the Dunkin Donuts at routes 6 and 102 in Scituate. This would be Anna's first time riding on the highway, but it was smooth sailing since traffic was light on the highway around 8:30 a.m.

In Scituate, we stopped for gas and coffee, and joined nine other Romans 8 Riders, plus a few guests. From there, we rode into nearby Connecticut to rendezvous with CMA members from the Healing Light chapter, plus a few more guests. By this time, around 10:30, the weather was warm enough for me to shed my leather jacket. Healing Light president Stan Winman gave a safety briefing before the ride. Since this was the first big group ride of the season, Stan urged riders to be extra careful because they might be a bit rusty from having not ridden since last year (actually, he used the term "cobwebs"). There were a few glitches early into the ride - the rider in front of me stalled his bike, forcing me to stop short. Another rider in the group disrupted the pack a short time later. After he caught up to us at a light, he said he had problems putting his bike into first gear.

Eventually, things settled down a bit, although it seemed that at least one of the guest riders had little experience riding in a large group. We CMA riders always ride in a two-row, staggered formation, but one of the guest riders in front of me rode smack in the middle of the lane.

Our destination for the ride was the Living Stone Foundation in Leominster, Mass. Most of our route consisted of secondary roads through small towns and villages, although to get through Worcester, we rode on Interstate 290. Riding highways through cities is some of the most challenging (and dangerous) riding motorcyclists will face, especially in a group. Cars exiting or entering the highway often cut into or through the pack, and at one point, I was glad I had the power of a Big Twin Harley to catch up to the other riders who had gotten separated from us. We even had a female motorcyclist (in full leathers) cut through our pack, which was a first experience for me. What's worse, this motorcyclist lost several papers from one of her saddlebags. It was like riding through rather large confetti. Then I saw a pencil fly out of her bag and roll onto the highway as she crossed in front of me. Math was never my best subject in school, but I'm pretty sure a number 2 pencil, plus my skinny 21" front wheel at 60 mph on a curve, equals a good recipe for disaster. Fortunately, my tire missed the pencil, and that woman made her exit. We were back on secondary roads for the remainder of the way, with only one extremely sharp curve, immediately followed by a very steep hill, to keep us on our toes.

To me, the Living Stone Foundation is like a piece of heaven tucked into the woods. It is the home of Bob Tellier, who retired from a teaching career in 1981 and, while building a stone fireplace and chimney on his house over the next few years, had a spiritual experience and became a born-again Christian.

"My mission is to carve the Word of God in stone," Tellier told our group after we arrived. "This is about one man - Jesus." Tellier hired a monument maker to help with his first project, and had the man teach him the art of stone carving

After visiting Jerusalem in 1987, Tellier began construction on his next big project - an elaborate stone structure, which he called a temple, dedicated to Jesus Christ. A giant stone pillar was erected next to the temple in 2001. Dozens of smaller stones carved with Scripture from both old and new testaments in the Bible, line a wooded trail behind the property, which became a nonprofit organization in 2000.

According to the foundation's web site, 90 percent of the stones are quarry rejects. "There's no way I could afford to buy this stone," Tellier said, adding that God has also provided him with the resources to transport the stones.

Our group walked the grounds, took photos and enjoyed a peaceful retreat. On the way back from Living Stone, the group split up. Some rode to a restaurant for a late lunch/early dinner, while others rode home. Anna and I rode back with Pastor Joe and his wife, Petra. We stopped for gas in Webster, Mass., and then Joe's motorcycle, a 1992 Harley FXR, would not start. Another small group of motorcyclists tried to help us, and after attempts to push-start the FXR didn't work, a gas station employee got a booster cable set with battery pack. Joe found a loose battery cable, and after tightening the cable, the jump-start worked and we were back on the road. We followed Joe and Petra into northwestern Rhode Island through many secondary country roads, which was a much-welcome break from the hair-raising highway riding earlier.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

It's Awfully Quiet Here Lately

I subscribe to eight motorcycle-related blogs and receive updates whenever they add new posts, but in the last few weeks, I've noticed that posting activity seems to have slowed down considerably. There are probably many explanations, but I can only assume the main reason is that in parts of the country that actually have seasons, the weather has been nice enough for enjoyable riding, so you all are doing more riding than blogging. Still, it's getting kinda lonely on here lately ....

Reading other bikers' blogs inspires me to keep trucking on my own blog, and I have to admit that I've been slacking on my end lately. I still have not posted about two big bike events I attended last Saturday and Sunday.

Unfortunately, I can't use the excuse that I've been riding a lot lately, because my riding has been mostly limited to weekends. Life has gotten pretty busy for me these last several weeks, between my work life; working my AA program; being in a relationship; and just trying to juggle the boring yet essential details of daily life, like keeping up with my dishes, laundry, bills and paperwork. Among all these competing demands for my time, blogging has taken a low priority. Yet, it's still something I want to continue, since I enjoy reading about other peoples' riding experiences (where has the Joker been lately?), and I would like to think the same holds true of my experiences.

So, please excuse me while I try to get caught up here.