Blood Mountain Scenic Ride

Michelle, whom I met on Facebook, invited me for a ride through the Chattahoochee National Forest to show me around her “neck of the woods.” We had a blast on two wheels. It  was a great weekend filled with good company, good food, good beer and beautiful roads. Michelle is a most gracious hostess and is an excellent motorcycle rider. She helped me “reset” my brain to enable me to enjoy street riding again for its own merits and with its own set of challenges. In other words, I had to retrain my attitude. Street riding has been a fairly frustrating experience for me for the past year and a half. I couldn’t enjoy the street because my brain was stuck at the track. This is a dangerous problem to develop. If you find you cannot separate and compartmentalize the differences between racing and street riding, you’ll soon find yourself in a world of pain. It’s really a little like playing Russian Roulette, but with bullets in most chambers.

The first racing school had cured me of such silliness as trying to put my knee down on public highways and practicing racing technique on curvy roads. There comes a point in a rider’s skill development where the street isn’t the proper place to learn anymore. The focus shifts from trying to “be faster” to honing your risk management skills and collision avoidance. There is a reason why a lot of racers eventually quit riding on the street. I fell into the trap without even realizing it until it was way too late.

After spending an entire day at the Kevin Schwantz School learning and practicing my racing skill set, I jumped on my S1000RR and headed the seven miles back to my hotel. I felt claustrophobic and slow, even though my average speed hadn’t changed. But after being at a racetrack where you do not have to worry about such things as Jersey Barriers or pavement conditions or opposing traffic, everything I saw around me became a possible death trap. I calmed down. At first.

Eventually, the lines between track riding and street riding blurred once more; and even though I hadn’t fully reverted back to my former level of hooliganism, I was still racing, although with less confidence. Which was a good thing. It kept me diving into blind corners tempting the fates.

If you are riding at the edge of your skill and your traction, eventually you will lose and most of the time that means a very high probability that you may not live to tell your story the next time you round a blind turn and find yourself nose-to-nose with that car violating the double-yellow line to take the “race line” through the turn. This means possible death for you, especially in the mountains where there’s a wall on one side and a ravine on the other with no real place to go. It means a whole load of paperwork for them; not to mention you’ve just ruined their day.

Something had to give. I was intellectually acutely aware of this. But I still couldn’t refrain from “redneck road racing” for the most part. The frustrations with the limitation of street riding soon became manifested in such a way that I couldn’t even enjoy riding anymore. At one point, after losing my job, I had told my husband just to sell my bike and be done with it. He became irritated. Maybe he didn’t understand what I was going through; maybe he thought I was getting down on myself because of the financial distress my unemployment caused. That was part of it. A small part of it. My problem, however, ran much deeper than just simply trying to make ends meet with less money in the bank. I was subconciously looking for a way out. I knew what I was doing would spell disaster in the long run. I knew that street riding requires a completely different skill set than track riding. I knew that practicing racing technique had no place off the racetrack. I knew. My brain knew. My soul kept flying.

I behave when I’m in a group, even if it is just with one other rider. I am courteous and attuned to other riders’ comfort levels. I make it a point not to create an environment that breeds competitiveness and the pressures of trying to keep up. It never has led to anything good for anybody involved. It’s one of those things. Nothing ever happens. Until that one time… But I have lost my “street eyes”. Where before I knew what a proper following distance looked like and managed to keep such a distance no matter what speed or how curvy the road, since I scanned ahead and made early adjustments, now I find it of no concern when someone dives into a curve behind me glued to my tail section. And I have no problem shoving my nose up someone else’s pipe either. This creates that peer-pressured environment that I seek so hard to avoid. Never mind, that I know I can stay well within my lane and not run into the person in front of me. What exactly are they thinking about me being back there? What position am I putting them in? At best, they don’t care just like I don’t; at worst they get scared, lose their concentration and do something that causes them to wipe out. Who’s fault is it? Technically the person who lost control is at fault, they call it “failure to negotiate a turn”. In my eyes, though, I am the one who put them in the situation to begin with. Hence, I am at fault. But that’s the way I think.

But when is too close too close? That is the question. If you follow someone and they crashed for one reason or another and you couldn’t help but get involved in their crash, you’re following too close. Optimally you shouldn’t be diving into a corner before the person in front of you has exited the curve in question and is well on their way into the straight part of the road. In a lot of cases you don’t even know when that is, since you can’t even see the apex (for those of you who don’t ride: the middle of the turn, where corner entry becomes corner exit, the point where slowing down turns into speeding up). Even if you could stop in time to avoid becoming involved in a crash, is the person behind you capable of doing the same? It’s a tricky proposition to brake when leaned over and it takes finesse and knowledge of motorcycle physics and how all these forces interacting with each other affect available traction and your continued success of staying on your tires rather than sliding on hard parts.

I used to get to “Point B” and people could be overheard talking about what they’ve seen; how pretty that waterfall was or how cute the fawn looked grazing in that ditch. I get there, usually ahead of the pack, saying: “What scenery?!? And where the heck are we anyway?”

I am well on my way to regain my proper (and safer) street game, but I have yet a ways to go. But Michelle showed me that yes, you can have fun on the street without breaking the sound barrier and risking going to jail. Yes, you can have fun on the street without having to haul triplets down the straight and grabbing a massive handful of front brake lever, throwing in two downshifts and stuffing 999cc into that awesomely banked constant radius right turn. However, when I’m by myself, I tend to get bored and sometimes get caught up in the dance that is negotiating those beautiful curves winding through the mountains. It starts out innocently enough, but the speed seems to steadily mount with every passing curve, as the music moves into the second movement and the dance continues.

It helps to make it a point not to brake for turns, but to adjust one’s speed in such a manner that you can just flow through without even touching the brake lever. It also helps for me to make it a point not to hang off, since remaining center on the bike really does give you that feeling of going faster than you actually are. I can still get my kicks at more reasonable speeds. The problem with riding “in the zone”: if the people behind you are relying on seeing brake lights to know what they need to do, you risk getting a nose up your tail. I don’t rely on brake lights or turn signals. It’s not a good idea anyway. It works fairly well until somebody blows a fuse… or signals one way and then changes their mind without telling you. It can also lead to target fixation. Another bad habit to avoid when riding, since the bike goes where you look.

Last weekend I’ve had the most fun I’ve had on the street in almost two years. The speeds were kept sane, I came home WITH CHICKEN STRIPS and I actually enjoyed some scenery for a change. 🙂

Thank you, Michelle, for being my tour guide.


The Dingleberry Chronicles: Today Is A Good Day To Die! NOT!!!

Good freaking GAWD! What the HELL is WRONG with you people!!!! Learn how to drive you motherhumpers! Now, with that out of the way, maybe I can calm down. ARRRGH! Ok, maybe now. SHIT! Nope, still not there. Gawd-freakin’-dammit I am not ready to be a grease spot on the expressway! FUCK! Ok. I think I got it. *inhales deeply, then exhales slowly*

I narrowly escaped being sideswiped by some fucktard in a full-sized pickup truck! I suppose the necessity of him making his exit was more important than my life. I couldn’t believe it. I was in the right lane on the 45-mph starting section of the Calhoun Expressway. I was rolling at a pretty good clip, so there’s no way I annoyed some speed demon on four wheels who is late for whatever-the-hell. I knew he was there, but didn’t expect him to speed up and cut me off to make the exit ramp that I was inconveniently blocking with my soft tissue and plastic parts. I can still see it, first the wheel caught my attention, then my vision came partially blocked by this huge front fender. I could make out the details of his headlight and turn signals. The chrome bumper with the black accent trim. Red. A nice red. Like a fire truck. My reverie (WTH woman?!?) is interrupted by the realization that if nothing happens here, our vectors will intersect very shortly, resulting in my Beemer’s nose being buried in his front wheel and me probably being high-sided into the left lane or even into the concrete divider, or worse, over it. My brain ceases all higher function. Snap! I realize that my throttle is being ripped wide open by my hand, I notice in amazement the bike quickly diving right then straightening back out as the S1000RR hurls itself forward. It’s like I’m watching myself from the inside, but using somebody else’s eyes. A discernible detachment. Like a first-person perspective, but not my own. As I realize that I have narrowly escaped (I don’t ever want to find out how close I came to certain death today) I experience snapping back into my body, I let go of the throttle, crank my torso around to my right and give the asshole, who is now making his way down the off-ramp, an enthusiastic one-fingered wave. Then I lose myself again. I faintly notice that my heart is hammering hard against my chest. I swear I can actually hear its staccato-like beats. My hand returns to its place on the throttle grip and I run. Run for my life. I can’t stop, I take the first curve of the expressway at almost knee-dragging speed. I’m not sure how fast I am going, but I’m sure it’s a little over the speed limit, which has increased to 55 mph. I think I’m going to throw up. I slowly return to myself and get my throttle hand under control and center myself back on the bike. I am surprised how quickly my systems return to normal, but my spirit is still preoccupied with the what ifs. I’m still feeling a little weak in the stomach. A few miles down the road, a wind gust picks up my front tire and sets it down slightly to the left. Holy crap! I don’t need THIS right now. I really don’t. As I make my way through a curve, another gust hits my broadside and the bike feels like it is being picked up. The suspension partially unloads on BOTH ends! How the hell is THAT possible? I’m running wide but compensate by more lean and a pinned throttle. Now I’m on the verge of having one of those girly freakouts. I’m putting as much weight over the front end as I possibly can without actually sitting on the tank and continue on. I need comfort food! Now! I decide to get back on the Interstate and hit a Mickey D’s at a nearby exit. I hate Mc Donald’s, but for some reason it is where I need to be. I need cookies, hot chocolate and some nasty fries. As I accelerate up the ramp and crest the top while merging left, another gust of wind hits me with full frontal force and causes my front end to get extremely light. I’m still on the gas, and no doubt have no contact on the front wheel. As I go over the crest of the ramp and into the traffic lanes I feel like I’m flying. Literally… I think I just caught some air, consequently I also end up in the left lane a heck of a lot quicker as anticipated. Luckily that is where I was headed anyway and there was no traffic to give me a second chance to kill myself today. I’m sick of this. I want to be off this cursed rocket and want to stuff myself with gross fast food.

It’s amazing what muscle memory can do for you to save your ass when your brain has gone bye-bye on a personal holiday. Thanks be to the God of Speed and his most faithful followers, who by printed word, formal instruction, and video tutorial have taught me well. If it wasn’t for you, I’d surely would have been on my way to transcend, to cross over with John Edward, to push up daisies, to meet my maker, to take a dirt nap, to enter the Underworld,…

Today was not a good day to die.