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Feeling alive

| 2/5/2009 9:54:03 AM


Have you ever been thoroughly soaked while riding your motorcycle? Not just damp around the edges wet, but the shivering “I’ll never be warm and dry again” kind of wet? Your gloves feel like sponges and your fingertips are numb; every piece of clothing is uncomfortably stuck to your body; your toes are floating in their own little ponds and your face hurts from squinting through the rain splatters? 

Why? Why do we do this to ourselves? I like to imagine that those fortunate souls who live in the sunny south never experience these sorts of character-building inclement conditions. But who needs it? My character can manage quite nicely without the body-numbing cold that comes from riding too long in the rain.  Even snow! I’d bet my last dollar that I’m not the only fool living in Canada or the northern USA who has arrived at his or her destination encased in ice. Are we collectively crazy? Off the deep end completely? 

I suppose that the answer depends on who is doing the asking. I have yet to meet a determined non-rider who had even an inkling of the ‘why’ of motorcycling. You either have it or you don’t! How do you explain the motivations for a spin on a crisp autumn morning with the frost just starting to burn from the grass? It takes ages to gear up, then the bike is a bit cranky about the cold start, and you fog up your face shield even before you leave the driveway. Then part way through the day, the sunshine disappears and you face too many miles of sharp, stinging rain on the homebound leg… but it was heaven!  The sun was warm on your back, the breeze smelled almost edible, pungent with autumn; the temperature fluctuated astonishingly with every hill and valley, the engine was music to the ears... You feel alive. Your head is clear, your eyes are sparkling and, just for a while, all is right with the world... 

Meanwhile, your significant other has only overheard the pre-trip mutterings about fuel prices and overly snug gear and misplaced glasses… And later when you return home, you are damp and smell of wet cowhide. Chilled and hungry, you shed a trail of dripping gear as you head for the shower to thaw out. How could an "outsider" possibly understand?  I don’t know myself, and I have been searching the road for the answers for many, many miles. 

But I do know that after a good ride, I feel invigorated and less at odds with myself and the rest of the world. Call it meditation if you will, or good karma, or blowing the carbon out of my head. It is good for the soul. The discomforts are part of the price – and worth every penny. 

2/7/2009 8:52:35 PM

Three decades ago I was an avid cross-country enduro rider (remember those?) and getting caught by a snowstorm thirty miles from Albuquerque was par for the course. A long stretch of desert trail and a frozen front side would have us telling each other that would never happen again, but the next weekend we would be out there tempting fate. Fast forward to last June, me and the same two guys decide to celebrate 30 years of friendship and ride to Glacier NP. We got hung up in Jackson for three days waiting for the roads to be cleared of snow. For three days we tried to go through Yellowstone to be turned back 10 miles into the park by white-out conditions and an icy road. Back at the motel in Jackson we commiserated with an other group of riders who had been waiting out the storms for a week. On the fourth day we pushed on to Old Faithful and back South, but we had run out of time. Will I try it again? You'd better believe it! The feeling that comes after testing one's resolve and endurance reinvigorates the soul.

Mark Coster
2/6/2009 5:35:17 PM

Done a lot of riding in the cold weather but as I move into my 50's I try and plan my around the extreme conditions. Got caught out leaving Napier on the East Coast of New Zealand on a seemingly fine day heading to Taupo which is on the Volcanic Plateau of New Zealand's North Island. Rememeber running into persisent rain which soon soaked the leathers despite my previous efforts at water proofing and the higher I got the rain turning to sleet. The other occupational hazard was the 'rainbow coloured' diesel/oil slicks on some of the tight uphill corners from where truck/trailer units had been in the low range crawling up the steep incline. Wind chill factor exacerbated by the motion of the bike, my leading edge fingers and knuckles really feeling the cold. Came down the deviation and into Taupo and the sun was shining..a warm cuppa and then began to thaw out.. I laugh about it now..but at the time

2/6/2009 4:05:10 PM

I was stationed in northern Scotland while in the Navy and rode with the guys who really knew how to manage their bikes in all types of awful weather. No matter how the day started we knew it would change for the worse, but never shirked from the shear wonderment of "why" we do this. Cold, wet and shaking from both the environment and the excitment of what we had just come through added to the anticipation of the next segment or the next ride. On those old Panthers, Ariels, James, Sunbeams, Triumphs and Velos it is a wonder that we were able to stay running long enough to have those experiences. No, I cannot explain why, but it is still (after fifty years) wonderful. Ernie

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