You Go Where You Look

Remember this from your MSF class or other basic motorcycling class that you may have taken?  I have heard the instructor in my head many times reminding me that the bike will go where I look.  I’ve also tested that lesson and proved it’s true – oh no, I don’t want to hit that pothole and WHAM!  Yes, I was focused on it and I went right into it.

Lately I have been wondering if this concept also applies to life.  If I am too focused on what happened in the past, where am I going?  Likely no where that I want to be.  As the calendar year comes to a close, I dare to think about next year’s riding season and dream of where I might go.  I think about what it might feel like to plan for and take off on a multi day trip again.  I wonder about how I would handle that and if I’m going to be up for it.

As the days grow shorter and cooler, I always look forward to spring.  I tolerate winter and sometimes even that’s a stretch.  I don’t enjoy the snow, I simply deal with it.  One way of coping when the snow starts to fly is planning for summer fun.  I’m not ready to commit to a specific plan for next summer yet, but I am at least allowing myself the space to think about what it may look like.  My hope is that will help me in making it a reality next year.  Will I indeed go where I look?  I sure hope so!

Pillion’s Perspective

It has been over three years since I’ve been a pillion on anyone’s bike.  If I have my way, it will be at least three more before it ever happens again too!  I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t enjoy it and now I can confirm that is, indeed, true.

Last weekend I took my first ever ride on the back of my riding partner’s bike.  Before anyone gets the wrong idea, let me say it had nothing to with a lack of trust in him.   He is a great rider and someone I trust completely.  What was bothering me about it, though, took a while to sort out.

There is something about not being on my own bike, and in charge of my own fate that makes me uncomfortable now.  Or maybe I’m a bit of a control freak.  Ok, there, I said it!  Even though our journey was brief, it took everything in me to sit still and not complain the entire time.  That would have been terribly rude of me as he was doing me a favor in letting me ride on the back.

If I am completely honest, I also found it a bit boring.  I don’t have to worry about traffic and in fact, it could be distracting for someone else to be looking around to see if the way is clear.  Just sit there, don’t any make unexpected moves and behave!  Where is the fun in that?  Other than in hanging out with my friend of course, but I don’t need to ride pillion to accomplish that.

I know of a few folks who only ride pillion and say they really enjoy it.  I’m hoping that the next time I run into one of them, they can explain it to me, because clearly, I have some thing still to learn.

 

Alaska – Day 6

Chena Hot Springs to Paxson – approx. 240 miles

As we left Chena Hot Springs, the blue skies quickly gave way to rain clouds, again.  After riding all day to Fairbanks in rain, I felt like I was pretty prepared.  Little did I know that this day would bring rain like I have never experienced before!

Our first stop of the day was at North Pole and a group visit with a Santa Claus that darn near made me believe again.  He was quite jovial and had an answer for each of our endless questions about his flying altitude, where are the reindeer and does he wear a helmet and protective gear!  At first I felt a little silly going to see Santa at my age, but I have to admit, it was a fun stop.

We also encountered our first real road construction this day and were waved to the front since there was a pilot car.  I don’t recall ever experiencing this before, but apparently the road construction folks in Alaska want motorcycles at the front so that the pilot car can see if a bike goes down and assist them.  We rode a long stretch of dirt behind the pilot car with most of us standing on the pegs for stability and control.  It wasn’t difficult riding, it was just different and for me, it was good to be on the dirt again, using those skills I don’t use often.

After we left North Pole, the skies opened up and we experienced rain such as I have rarely even driven in, let alone ridden in.  I was very grateful for my goretex gear and have to say that it help up admirably!  We had a planned lunch stop at a picnic area near a lake which is probably amazing on a sunny day.  On this day with the torrential rain coming down, we all took cover under the eaves of the building that contained the outhouses!

We decided to press on to our next gas stop in Delta Junction and see if the rain would let up so we weren’t also eating lunch in the rain.  As luck would have it, there was a laundromat right next to our gas stop!  I have never seen so many biker ladies pile into a laundromat so enthusiastically before.  We all dried our riding jackets and other layers to get some relief from the cold.  We even became the topic of a couple photos with all the bikes parked outside, surely people wondering what could we be doing?  We had lunch right there in the laundromat while everything dried – no fancy lunch stops for this bunch and I know that I was just thrilled to have warm clothing again!

The afternoon was wearing on me and then we came to a pull out to gather the group together again.  As I turned left into the parking area, I noticed the view and my jaw literally dropped!  I could barely park my bike I was so excited to capture this view.  At the same time, my tour leader saw the joy and amazement on my face and captured an incredible shot of me!  At last, I felt like I was seeing Alaska!

We stopped one last time at a scenic overlook and our tour leader reminded us that this was likely our last spot for cell phone service for about 24 hours.  We were that remote and I was excited about it!

Once we arrived at our lodgings and unloaded our bags from the chase truck, most of us headed out for a little dirt riding on the Denali Highway.  It was about 15 miles out to a scenic overlook and we wanted to check that out and be back in time for dinner.

In that moment, I had no idea what lie ahead for me.  It’s going to take me a while to write the post about it, so I am going to say simply that I am ok.  I’ll save the rest for the next post.  Please, bear with me as I work through the emotions that seem to leap to the surface as I describe what happened on that gravel road . . .

Thanks for reading!

Alaska – Day 5

Fairbanks to Chena Hot Springs – 212 miles

After the downpour of rain on our way into Fairbanks and that entire evening, it was so nice to wake up to clear blue skies and sunshine.  We only had 60 miles to go to our next hotel stop, but there were a few side trips planned for this day!

First we rode over to the Large Animal Research Station and learned about musk ox and reindeer!  I had no idea this could be so interesting and the guide that we had was very personable and super knowledgeable about these animals, their habits and their history.  While we were there it suddenly started to rain very hard and thankfully there was a shelter for everyone to duck into.  I thought we had gotten the rain out of our system the day before but I guess not.  Thankfully this didn’t last long and the sun returned quickly!

Our next stop was the Alaska pipeline which was actually kind of cool to see.  I imagined it to be much larger than it is, so that was a surprise for me.  I was also fascinated by the informational signs that told about the history and how the pipeline is maintained.  This is definitely something you won’t see in the lower 48!

After that, we still had time to burn so we took a detour to a nice, twisty paved road for some fun riding.  This was the first time that the group started to split up a bit where the faster riders took off on their own.  I’ve been struggling with how to write about this and finally decided that I’m going with my perspective and not speculate on what others were thinking.  I don’t want to be unfair to them and I honestly don’t know what other people thought about this day.

For me, this was an uncomfortable 50+ miles of mostly being alone in Alaska on a road I am not at all familiar with.  I overheard one rider say to another that the two of them had been doing 100 mph for a while on that road; I believe the speed limit was 65, but I know it was not more than 75.  I know I was doing in the 70-80 mph range and when I felt unsafe, I slowed myself down to where I felt more in control.  I have always been taught that everyone needs to “ride their own ride” and I reminded myself of that many times that day.  It reinforced, again, that I’m done with group riding.  If I’m going to be alone, then I’m going to be alone.

After a gas stop and the group coming back together we headed down the last road that would take us to Chena Hot Springs for the evening.  This road, we’d been warned, had damage and places where the road would dip and heave due to road construction and freezing temperatures that cause the asphalt to buckle.  Once we were on that road, where there were no turn offs to get lost on, everyone was able to take off on their own if they wished.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why this bothered me and I have realized that I prefer group riding where we look out for one another and the group stays together.  I felt very alone in an unfamiliar place and I was not as comfortable with it as I’d like to think I would be.

Once we checked into our hotel and got unpacked a little it was time for dinner.  The resort was quite nice and I wish I had more energy left from the day; I would have liked to spend some time enjoying the hot springs.  As it was, I could barely keep my eyes open and this introvert was tired of people for the day.  I went back to my room after dinner and was asleep before 9 PM.  It turns out that extra sleep would come in handy because while I couldn’t have known it, the next day was going to be long and eventful.

 

Alaska!

At long last, my dream of riding in Alaska has become a reality and in fact, I’m back home now and even unpacked!  Well, I should say the clothes are unpacked.  The rest of the unpacking is going to take a bit longer because Alaska is everything and nothing I expected it to be.

I suspect that as I start to pull it all apart and write the posts about the days of my trip it will reveal even more.  Rather like the layers of an onion.  I have unfinished business with Alaska now and at some point will return to close that chapter.  But I feel pretty confident saying that it won’t be right away.

This was a very emotional experience for me, and not just now in hindsight.  There was a moment on the trip that I came around a bend and stopped overlooking a meadow full of fireweed and greenery, a river and in the distance a mountain and glacier.  I was so in awe that my jaw dropped and tears sprang into my eyes for several moments.  This was when it hit me that I was in Alaska!  I could not have known in it that moment, but this was going to be a pivotal day for me.  It sounds cliche to say the trip changed my life, but I know that it has.

I learned a great deal about myself and a few things about human nature on this trip.  In both cases, some positive and some not so positive.  I reminded myself often that I can only change myself and that’s where my focus will be going forward.  Out of this experience I will become a stronger, more confident rider.  Also a different rider than before.  Sometimes change is hard, but I am ready to do the work.

I’ll be back, Alaska.  But first, I want to soak in the experience of my first trip there a little while longer.

Overwhelming Gratitude

Recently I was hit by a tidal wave of emotions.  A blast of gratitude so strong that it overwhelmed my ability to process it for a few minutes.  That in itself is an amazing gift, but when I started to look at everything behind it, I was actually in tears – happy ones of course!

Motorcycle travel.  I’ve written a great deal already about my summer riding and the amazing trips I’ve been blessed to experience this year.  There is still another to come and I can’t even describe how excited I am for Alaska.  That has been a dream of mine for over five years.  The bonus for me in all of it is that after I found my beautiful Sassy last year, I feel like I have the best bike possible to travel on.  Sassy doesn’t travel to every destination, but renting the same or a similar bike has made all the difference in how I enjoy motorcycle travel.  Also having put a good bit of miles on in the last year has helped build my confidence and my skills.  When I look back to the beginning of last summer I can’t believe how terrified and unprepared I felt.  Or maybe I should say that I am grateful for all I’ve learned and how the miles and people who have been patiently teaching me made such an impact.

Dear, dear friends.  To me, there is no substitute for a trusted group of friends who you know will have your back and you have theirs.  Some live farther away, but each of them is a treasure in my life.  I’ve always been a person who values a small group of close, trusted friends over a large group that I know less well.  In the last couple years I have been fortunate to add some new friends to my world.  I am grateful for the joy that each of them brings to my life.

Best riding partner, ever!  Yes, he is also a dear friend, but I feel like he deserves his own category.  We literally met on the side of the road and rode together the very next day.  Our riding styles are compatible, we learn together and from each other and have grown to trust and lean on each other.  It is a joy to ride with someone that you know so well you can anticipate how they are going to handle most situations.  When we get it wrong, we talk it out and make adjustments for next time.  I can and do ride by myself, but the miles I’ve put on with my riding buddy are some of my favorite and I always look forward to our next adventure!

Cool job.  It isn’t just my job, it’s the company I work for, my boss and my colleagues.  I prefer to focus on the positive so I’m going to say that this job is what I have dreamed of for many years.  I feel valued and heard.  We treat each other like adults and everyone values their work life balance; that isn’t just a phrase on the website to apease HR.  My boss appreciates what I bring to the team and actively encourages me to grow in my field.  He asks which direction I want my career to go and how he can help me reach those goals.  When I request time off he always approves it right away and then makes a point to ask how my trip was when I return.

Decent finances.  Yes, these trips cost and I realize I am fortunate to have the means to afford them.  I had plenty of years of working two jobs just to pay the rent and support myself. Thankfully those days are gone and hopefully never return.  I also worked a ton last year and took only one week off because I had no paid time off or holidays.  This year I am reaping the rewards of that and I appreciate every paid day off that I have!

After this incredible summer, I’m not sure what I will set my sights on next.  At this point I am trying to be open to whatever adventures may come my way for next year.  I know that this will be one to remember for a long, long time.

Rethinking Group Rides

This is a topic I’ve been considering writing about for a while.  I was hoping that more time and experience would help me make an informed decision one way or the other, and I think it finally has.

When I was a new rider, group riding was intimidating to me.  I worried about keeping up.  I was anxious about riding my own ride in the midst of people much more experienced than me.  How do we handle being split up?  What happens when the rest of the group wants to go faster than you do?  What if you have just had enough and want to bail out on the whole situation?  Is that rude?  Is it smart?  Does it even matter, since my responsibility is to ride my own ride and to do so safely?

A few weeks ago, I went on a group ride with some people that I know and some I don’t.  I had never ridden with any of them before.  I soon found myself riding sweep with a group of guys and I thought hmmm, this is interesting.  Did I end up back here because they think I’m slow?  I’m pretty sure that is why and they ended up with a big surprise!  What actually happened is that a rider in the middle of the group was very, very slow.  Painfully slow.  As in going around curves in first gear and looking terribly uncomfortable slow.  Being behind that person was frustrating for me.  I imagine it was for the other two riders also behind this person, but I don’t want to assume what they were thinking.

When we stopped, two of the riders between the very slow person and me decided to head out on their own.  They said they lived nearby and it was more convenient for them.  I ended up wishing I had done the same by the time this day was over.  Afterward some people said the slow rider should be in the back.  I admit that initially I agreed.  Then, as I thought about it more, I realized the faster ones were not really slowing down for this person, so wouldn’t that mean he/she would have been left behind by them?  I’m pretty sure it would and that’s not what group riding is about.  That leaves those behind this rider frustrated and those in front of that person counting their lucky stars.  It probably leaves the slower rider feeling uncomfortable as well.  Surely they know they are slower than the front group and are holding up those behind them.

I’ve found myself in the opposite situation as well and that is equally uncomfortable.  When the group leader says don’t worry, we will ride at the pace of the slowest person and then takes off like a shot and leaves you basically on your own.  That’s no fun either. I was the slower rider in that group and found that it was difficult and very frustrating.  Yes, I could see them, way off in the distance, but I sure couldn’t catch them.  I didn’t do any group riding for a long time after that because I didn’t want a repeat of that experience.  So, it was strange to me that when I was part of the “faster” group, how impatient and frustrated I became being “stuck” behind a slow rider.  Where was my compassion, having been in their boots?

I don’t have a clear solution right now, but am leaning toward no more group rides.  A few exceptions may be riding with people I have ridden with before and know well.  Obviously going with my riding partner but I don’t consider the two of us a group.  It makes me sad to think about saying no to all group rides, but the frustration I felt on that recent day amounted to a day I don’t care to repeat.

What is your stance on group rides?  If you enjoy them, how have you found a compatible group?  What happens when you feel it isn’t working?  Do you politely bow out?  I look forward to hearing how other riders handle this!