The Ugly: Death Of A Pirate

About 75 miles into what was supposed to be a 250-mile daylong romp through the mountains my play date with five other like minded individuals with a need for speed came to an unexpected end when I decided to ruin my day by tossing the S1000RR into the woods.

The pace was again relaxed and speeds were nowhere near what they were previously as there was a little traffic and we had just taken a twenty-minute pit stop a few miles back. I was the fourth bike in our group of six, approaching a mildly downhill left-hand turn with a slightly negative camber. I’ve ridden this road a handful of times before and enjoyed it. It’s a scenic little stretch of deliciously curvy asphalt winding its way through a dreamy forested area before opening up and climbing over a mountain range. Pure sport bike heaven.

Group pic at the pit stop

That’s my Wing Woman standing by her VFR and the last photo taken of the Pirate.

It is hot, the midday sun is high in the sky and a gentle breeze ripples the luscious foliage of the forest as the sunlight filters through the trees and dapple the road ahead in a mesmerizing kaleidoscope pattern of shadows and light. It is a soul-touchingly tranquil sight to behold. Even though Mother Nature’s light-show makes it difficult to focus. The constant shift between shade and sunlight doesn’t help matters in depth perception either and the glorious end result: you can’t see shit, your eyes get tired from the strain, your brain hurts and you now know why cruisers like to cruise. They are bathing in the serene and basking in their machines’ overly restrictive limitations. But none of that speed demon hating serenity was even an issue. This particular scene is just vivid in my mind’s eye for some reason. How peaceful it was, how relaxed I felt. How I was in the moment, content and — dare I say, happy. Couldn’t have come into that corner all that hot, if I actually remember my surroundings. I never remember the scenery. Scenery? What scenery? We ain’t here because it’s pretty. We’re here with an entirely different agenda. I could tell you all you’ve ever wanted to know about surface conditions, curve geometry, and road hazards, though. But that waterfall back there? Didn’t see it. Don’t care. That’s probably also the reason why I hardly ever know where exactly I am, what road I’m on, or why I get lost a lot (don’t really listen to my GPS either). I also have a tendency to blow past my turn-offs, oblivious until it dawns on me (hopefully not too) many miles later that something is amiss. Where was I? Oh yes, I remember…

I am coming up on that fateful left-hander. I brake, tip the bike in and am giddy with the realization that I’m about to drag a knee through a left turn on a public highway. That never happens. Ever. I’m too short and my rearsets are too far up. Oh, and my lefts also suck. Twice my knee has kissed public-use pavement in a right turn. Twice. On the fabled “Tail of the Dragon”, in the same bumpy, gouged-by-hard-parts crap curve that I don’t even like all that much. The only thing that particular shit corner has going for it? It’s banked past the apex and exits into a fun uphill kink, if you’re going south that is; going north it is an animal of a different ilk.

My childlike excitement quickly gives way to perplexity when it occurs to me that the angle is all wrong. I can’t really pinpoint the cause for my concern, but something doesn’t quite “look right” or feel right, for that matter. As I am lost in wonderment, it suddenly dawns on me that I am not hanging off. I had no business getting excited over left-side knee dragging action in the first place. I was sitting sedately center, lazy as a lump on a log. What else didn’t I do? No customary downshift to keep the bike from gaining speed by use of engine compression; yes, I was lazy and made the conscious decision at the last second not to, after all we’re not pushing the pace here or anything. At this same instant my left knee touches down, followed in quick succession by various other body parts that aren’t supposed to (not on a good day anyway). Thigh, hip, elbow, upper arm. Complacency turns into an unstoppable slide into the wild. I am separated from my bike, slide off the edge of the road onto the narrow shoulder and then am unceremoniously flung into the great beyond after my Beemer. The only cognizant thought I manage is an acute awareness that this isn’t going to be any fun at all, accompanied by a lingering sense of obtuseness still presiding over the fuckery currently in progress. I may have yelled “oh shit!”, or maybe I just thought it as I flew over the side of the embankment and dropped from sight.

Things get a bit fuzzy here. I think I may have changed direction once or twice mid-hurl. It’s dark and I can’t see anything. I don’t feel anything either. When I come to my senses again, I am disoriented. It takes me a moment before I come to the conclusion that the world isn’t upside down, rather I am; standing on my head, buried in leaves and sticks by self-insertion and with boots sticking out of the underbrush. I have dirt in my mouth. I wonder what my predicament must look like from above. I have dusty grime in my nostrils and it tickles to breathe. My disjointed musings are interrupted by a screaming one-word thought that pierces my reverie and gets me moving in a hurry in an effort to right myself and extract various body parts from their entanglement: “SPIDERS!” I struggle to invert myself, whilst working to keep a lid on the rising panic in my chest. I finally manage to get on my feet and slowly turn around.

The S1000RR came to rest maybe ten feet from where I am now standing, emotionless and quite detached. The thought of spiders forgotten as quickly as it had come. The Pirate is taking a dirt nap on its left side, nose facing forward. I make my way there, stumbling and falling once, hit the kill switch and turn the ignition key to the “off” position. I notice I’ve landed in a scattered pile of old bike parts. Not the first one to play this game, am I? I see your Harley and raise you a BMW. Great. I make out what looks to be an old headlight cover and a broken off rusty floorboard, both of which the guys later haul out of this graveyard to tease me with. Yeah, I have wicked friends. Fucking sickos.

I turn away, there is nothing here I can do, and begin climbing the steep slope, pulling myself up by roots and tree branches. I keep sliding back down the hill, my boots unable to gain purchase in the loose dirt and thick covering of leaves. Someone’s arm  appears over the edge above and I reach out to clasp the offered helping hand as I am clawing my way up the hill. As I reach the top, I see my Wing Woman, standing there next to one of my other buddies who had pulled me out of my predicament, lit cigarette in hand, which she shoves into my face, inserting it between my lips, stating confidently: “You’ll be needing that.” I had quit smoking a few weeks ago. Don’t mind if I do. Please and thank you.

After a while the dissociative state I’ve been enjoying thus far leaves me and I start freaking out, pacing, repeatedly exclaiming that I need to call Joe, my husband, but I’ve lost my phone. Frantically searching, but not really seeing. “I need my phone. I need my phone. Have to call Joe. My phone. I have to call Joe. I need my phone…” Two strangers had also stopped to see if they could help and they joined in the search for the phone, which was eventually found. I was told that I was in a state of shock. I kept reassuring everybody that I was OK. My phone was recovered by the stranger on the Gixxer and was elevated to Hero of the Moment status. Holding onto my phone, I quickly calmed down again, but I didn’t make the call. Not then.

While most of the guys were trying to figure out how to recover my bike, I surveyed the scene of this latest example of a “failure to complete the turn” in hopes of determining what exactly had happened. Knowing the cause of a crash is hugely important to me. It means the difference between learning from a mistake and being at the mercy of repeating it. One long skinny skid mark running parallel to an even skinnier white line are the only visible signs of my premature get-off. Well, the shoulder looked like a wild pig was hunting for truffles, but otherwise there was nothing really to see. A fresh scar six foot up a nearby tree and a broken off rotting corpse of another tree were also blamed on my  recent display of motorcycling prowess. Someone said that the skid mark is from a locked up front wheel and the white line was caused by my left rearset, more than likely. The missing chunk of wood six foot up a tree gave cause to wild speculation of flying BMWs and how this feat could possibly be accomplished. No other clues on the pavement were in evidence as to the possible cause of the crash.

It took six hot and sweaty dudes pushing, pulling and dragging the Beemer quite some distance through the woods to reach a spot where the forest floor was closer to road level and the incline of the embankment was shallow enough to get the bike back up on the road. The Pirate was trashed. The nose was smashed, the fairings on one side were almost ripped off the bike and cracked and broken on the other. One mirror was missing (so were several other miscellaneous bits), the front brake reservoir was shattered, the radiator was hideously cracked, the front forks were tweaked, it was generously leaking fluid of every flavor. She was a damned mess. The sight of her was so pitiful I wanted to cry.

But enough of that, we needed to get the heck out of there, before the cops showed up and the real fun began. The kind of fun that involves getting a de facto speeding ticket and whatever other citations they like to retroactively hand out to bikers who wad up their wheels for whatever reason. What a load of crap! Anyway, after a little jiggling and yanking to get the bike into neutral from whatever gear she was in, she cranked right up. Yeah! That’s my baby. German engineering at its finest. Takes a licking and keeps on ticking and all that. When it came time for me to ride her to a safer location, I lost my composure yet again and proceeded to freak the fuck out. Nope. Can’t do it. Can’t ride her. I have no brakes, a broken shifter, mangled levers and I left my courage down below along with one mirror and the left-side fairing panel. One of the dudes rode it to an undisclosed location for me. I also refused to ride his bike to follow, mumbling something about not being emotionally ready to wreck another one in the same afternoon. He rode it for me and he had to ride bitch back with another guy in our group to get his own bike. Yeah. I’ll never live that one down and neither will he. Not with the crowd I hang out with. 🙂

The Harley Graveyard

29 minutes later… let’s play find the Beemer. May she rest in pieces.

And that is the story of how the Pirate Named Trouble was left for dead 300 miles from home and I walked away with a bunch of ugly bruises, a neck injury which is mostly healed, and a load of psychological problems for which I’m still undergoing self-directed treatment. 😉

Oh, and one last thing: Wear your fucking gear. ATGATT (All The Gear All The Time)! The one lesson you should take away from this: even if you’re not riding hard, or getting sporty, or pushing your limits, you can still go down at any time, when you least expect it. Had I’ve not worn my full race gear and a full-face helmet, I’d be either dead or a vegetable someone has to spoon feed and then later wipe my ass. Uncool.


A Tale of the Dragon

“How do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Get through the curves so fast? You make it look so easy. I’m scared half to death most of the time.”

“Me, too.”

“What? No way. But you ride with such confidence…”

Conversations such as the one above happen to me quite often now. The interchanges differ slightly, some are broad and generic, some more specific and focused, and yet others are just to say hello and to tell me that the way I ride is inspiring. I’m not really sure why. I am mostly just flabbergasted, because I don’t consider myself fast, or inspiring, am nowhere as smooth and proficient as I want to be, and I’m definitely a little scared a lot more than I’d like to admit. Heck, I’m still a newbie myself. I’m in my fourth year of riding, with roughly 44,500 miles logged, and have yet a long way to go before I could even consider myself an experienced rider. So why have I become the go-to girl?

Maybe I am asking the wrong question. Maybe it’s not what I do or to what level of proficiency I do it. After all, the degree of a skill is relative to the comparisons made. Maybe it is how I do it.

So how do I do it?

Upon reflection, I find that the answer is of quite a simple nature:

  • I refuse to accept “good enough” as a standard and continue to learn and practice those lessons whenever and wherever I can
  • I keep reaching outside of my comfort zone little by little, gently pushing my skill envelope and working through my fear(s)

And no matter where I am in my skill progression, or how advanced of a rider I may become, these two concepts hold true. Mastery does not equate perfection. There is always room for improvement and always an opportunity, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, to learn more. “The day I quit learning is the day that I die.” I don’t know who said it, or where I picked up these words of wisdom, but I wholeheartedly embrace the sentiment. Words to live by, indeed.

It does make a girl feel good (and a little bit proud), even if she feels a tad awkward and shy, when others show their appreciation for the way she rides. Especially when the kudos come from riders whom she considers to be so far above and beyond her own skills, that she is amazed they even gave her the time of day. It keeps her going, it makes her work even harder and cements the refusal to give up and not let temporary setbacks beat her into the trap that is “oh well, good enough.” It really isn’t good enough. “Good enough” is dangerous as it leads to routine and routine eventually results in rashed paint, dinged frames and broken off bits. Or worse.

Well…?

I’m in the mood for a little story telling rather than my usual not-quite-scientific analytical nerdiness. I’ll be as long-winded as the Dragon is curvy. That’s my specialty, and if you are one of my a regular readers, you’re used to this already. I am an editor’s worst nightmare. Well, I would be, if I had one. I’m gonna be, one day.

Here you go. Sit down, put your feet on the pegs, and hold on tight:

A Tale of the Dragon

A week ago, my husband and I returned from a five-day motorcycle vacation. Two of those days were spent at Deal’s Gap, riding a stretch of US-129 between North Carolina and Tennessee that is known to motorcyclists all over the country as the “Tail of the Dragon”. The road is notorious for its advertised “318 curves in 11 miles” and it is quite the gem from both a biker’s point of view and that of an engineer’s. It has a curve for every taste. Banked or off-camber, blind or the kind you can see all the way around, constant and decreasing radii, compound and multi-apex curves, fast sweepers, esses, elevation changes, dips, cracks, rough and smooth asphalt… you name it, you can find it, in various more or less gratifying combinations. Want to see if your street game is up to snuff, this road is a good place to evaluate. The Dragon comes complete with photographers ready to snap your picture as you negotiate a few choice corners (please smile, wave, and get your lean on to get that knee or floorboard down) and the obligatory contingent of county and state officials with clipboards at the ready and fat ticket pads to grade your excellence in high performance. It even has a Tree of Shame to hang your various broken bike parts on, should you flunk the skills test. Just don’t go there in the middle of the day on the weekends, or you’ll just get stuck in a traffic jam in the middle of seemingly nowhere, and then you will be lucky if you even get to average the speed limit, which is a posted 30 miles per hour.

The sky looked ominous. It desperately wanted to rain, but the weather had held so far and I was determined to get a few good runs in before it let loose, if it was even going to in the first place. If it did rain, so what? In my husband’s words:

“I’m going to do the Dragon. I don’t care if it rains. I don’t care if I’m the only man to ever do it wearing a trash bag, that Dragon is going down!”

Mr. Slow is a self-admitted fair-weather biker, so this was important enough for him to risk getting caught in a rainstorm. It was important enough for me, too; albeit for a completely different set of reasons. His reasons included shutter speed, mine corner speed. I really didn’t see my husband a whole lot after I followed him on his virgin run with the video camera attached to my bike. We never broke the (averaged) speed limit and I was one-handing it most of the trip, waving fanatically at the photographers hoping to get my silly self into hubby’s frame to ruin the shot. Didn’t quite work out as planned. I risked his life for nothing. Bummer.

20120516-142103.jpg

I almost didn’t go, because the sort of shenanigans that I had in mind were for dry roads and warm tires, but I made myself gear up anyway. I quietly admonished myself that I was supposed to keep it at 60% and keep the racer mentality off the public roads. So far I had done pretty well in that regard. Yes, things got a little spirited on occasion, but I would like to think that I never exceeded 75% of my skill at any given time. Did I not just spend a weekend riding with a friend resetting my brain to “street mode” and adjusting my “Speed Racer” mentality in an effort to ditch the frustration with the limitations of street riding that has plagued me for the better part of the past two years? To recapture the enjoyment of the ride at slower, more sane speeds without letting too much hang out on that slippery slope that is risk acceptance. “No speeding in the straights!” is the toughest rule to adhere to, especially if the road isn’t entirely straight, but sweeps invitingly from side to side.

As it turns out, the road is cold and wet in places, and it seems to be getting worse. I realize that it is starting to rain and that we are catching up with the worst of it. As we continue northward the road gets wetter and there are leaves in a lot of the corners. I slow my already temperate speed even more. I have only one word to describe my feelings about wet leaves in wet corners: treacherous. My tires are sticking and my lines are true. However, this situation makes me feel timid and uncertain. To the close observer, this anxiety makes itself evident in my body position. As the battle between fear and intellect rages in my mind, my sternum becomes rigidly glued to the tank. I have to make a conscious effort to correct this tendency, hang off properly by dropping the upper body into alignment and in doing so also right the bike from its excessive lean. When your chest is stuck to the gas cap, your ass might as well be sitting in the seat, with your knee gripping the tank. You can’t just hang your cheeks out and expect to conserve lean angle by lowering your combined center of gravity. It doesn’t work that way. Either hang off or don’t… that half-assed crap isn’t really doing anything but make you look like an assclown. I’m getting a little flustered with myself, not that I would have to hang off at all. But hanging off is one of those things I still need to practice and perfect for myself, so I always at least go through the motions, even at speeds where it is not needed. At minimum I like to “pop” the inside hip into place and weigh the outside peg. Besides, sitting sedately center, hauling through a curve is much scarier than doing the same while getting low and to the inside of the bike, for the centrifugal forces involved are less apparent. It just feels slower and more manageable. This is also the secret to getting your kicks without having to push the speeds too far into “jail-able offense” territory. And if you also take the “car line” through to avoid flattening out the curve you can get even more thrills for your speeding ticket buck. But that’s an entirely different story altogether.

I’m not liking this kind of riding. This is more like commuting or roadtripping than joy riding. But as the ride continues, my fear is gradually replaced by annoyance. I want to be irresponsible (in a responsible kind of way), but am somewhat inhibited by the probable presence of more cops (one had parked himself in the first longish straight to set the mood) and the less-than-fun traction conditions. But it is good practice. Since I’ve lost my job, I haven’t had much occasion to use my crap weather skills, so this is really a blessing in disguise. With the newfound attitude I begin to settle into a rhythm and am starting to enjoy myself again, even if such joy is served with a dash of apprehension.

We turn around at Tabcat Bridge, at the northern end of the Tail, and make our way the eleven miles back south. It isn’t too long before the skies open up and let us have it in full force. Visibility becomes more and more limited as the rainshower cranks its intensity up to torrential downpour. My visor keeps fogging up and my gloves are getting soaked. Our average speed doesn’t drop all that much and we are still dancing smoothly and effortlessly through the curves. Now this is something I can cope with. The leaves have washed off the road and the asphalt is finally clean. This is the kind of riding I refer to when I say: “Rain is nature’s way of giving us clean roads and 80% traction.” I don’t like “sort of wet”, but “really, really, really wet” I can definitely deal with. The hanging off bit stops as soon as I realize — to my chagrin — that my crotch is absolutely soaked and my feet are sopping wet. I make myself as small as possible, trying to keep the water out. To no avail. I can feel a cool trickle making its way down my spine between my back protector and the moisture-wicking compression shirt. Oh, goodie! We all know where that’s going next: Asscrack Falls. And then I’ll be sitting in it until I stand up. I smirk at the thought. I’m not entirely sure why this is even funny, but I’m getting a kick out of it. Hell, yeah! I made that damn Dragon cry. I suffer another mental burst of girly giggles.

David and I are the fastest crew to come down the mountain that morning. The Pirelli Angel ST tires are again proving their crap weather worthiness. I don’t trust them quite yet on their sides, because they have massive grooves for water evacuation running almost all the way to their outer edges. That’s just too much air and not enough rubber in the chicken strip regions for my comfort level. When it was dry I wished I had a stickier, softer tire; but now I am definitely glad I’m rolling these sport-touring hoops. My confidence in the tires is evident in our pace. I have no problem keeping up with David who is leading the return trip.

We’re safely passing several vehicles and catch up with some sportbike riders who do not seem to appreciate getting caught in this shit storm at all. One is making a concentrated effort not to lean around a corner; and another is hugging the center lines, crossing over repeatedly, almost as if he was using them as a visual guide to help him stay on the road. We pass him in a hurry, before he could make it to the next curve. It appears that David and I had the same idea, neither one of us wanting to see “what happens next”. [Both of these guys made it back down the mountain alright.]

Several riders gave up and parked it at a pull-off. The Harley boys just kept on cruising, a little slower than usual, but those dudes don’t wimp out for some rain. Especially if there isn’t an overpass to park under for miles and they’re already wet. The cigarette smoking while riding, however, has ceased, for obvious reasons.

We finally make it to the chain-link fence that marks the southern side “Beginner’s End” at the North-Carolina/Tennessee state line. Almost there. Almost. As we round the right-hander a flash of hi-viz yellow catches my attention. I smile as I realize it’s Mr. Slow creeping down the mountain on his Samsonite Missile. He also has no real pressing urge to lean. That’s my man! I smile again, since I’m happy to have caught up with him; because I assure you, I would have freaked out approximately 22 minutes after not seeing his Connie parked in front of our room.

This is a good time to have lunch at the Dragon’s Den Grill and the place is packed as people settle in to wait out the storm. The satellite TV has quit, we have no cell reception, and it’s anybody’s guess as to how long this’ll go on. A typical spring afternoon shower? Couldn’t be more than an hour or two.

As soon as the rain subsides, I’m geared back up and on my way to my bike to head out. Everybody else also wants to go, but they want to wait about 20 minutes for the road (and their gear) to start drying out. With my renewed confidence I’m not even interested in wet roads or wet gear. I sit down on the bench in front of our room and impatiently wait on time to tick off the minutes as I watch the steam as it rises from the pavement; the road slowly begins to dry.

My overly inflated ego is promptly corrected not too far into the next run. Let some of that air out, hot stuff, shall we? Traction feels iffy and after sliding around in two consecutive turns, I am absolutely crestfallen. WTF?!? My riding again becomes timid as my anxiety level rises. I hate sliding the rear wheel. I dislike it on the track, but I’ve learned to cope with it there; however, I still don’t like it when it happens and I find myself avoiding to ride that close to the edge of my traction limit. When it happens on the street my anxiety is multiplied. I already hate the outside edge of the pavement and sliding around like I am isn’t helping that situation any. This is the reason I have a tendency to take the “race line” through a corner, hugging the center-line at the apex with my body hanging all over into the oncoming lane. Never mind that my tires are still in the correct lane space. On the track this tendency is displayed in a distinct cutting of corners to the apex. It’s almost a little like dog-legging it, rather than a more gradual approach. It’s point-and-shoot from entry to apex, but on exit it is a gradual drifting out to the outside edge, as it should be when accelerating out of a turn. This is also why I prefer right-hand turns on the street, even though it would make sense to be more fearful in a right-hander. After all, if the rear breaks loose, I would be sliding into oncoming traffic rather than off the road. All these worries and various discomforts come flooding into my conscious thoughts. Slap! Take you down a notch, missy. A pass and review of your more annoying (and tenacious) riding flaws. Arrrrrrgh!

On the return trip I can barely keep up with the guys, my group or otherwise. Correction: I can’t keep up with the guys. They only reason I keep catching them is that they get held up by other motorists. I feel tired and unfocused. I’ve let myself down. I am really disappointed. I know I can do better, so what is this? It’s almost schizophrenic. I feel slightly nauseated as I fight my way through every curve.

By the time I’m back down at the Gap, I’ve worked myself up into a real pisser of a self-deprecating attitude. I park the bike, and start stripping off my gear. I’m not going back up! This shit sucks, I’m really not in the mood anymore. Apparently, you can’t teach some old dogs anything… I notice none of my friends’ bikes are there. Not even Mr. Slow’s is anywhere to be found. Oh, hell with this! I’m going back up and I am showing this damned Dragon who’s wearing the bitchin’ pants in this freaking crowd. The guys pull in as I am adjusting my tire pressures. Great, those jokers stopped off somewhere and here I was trying to catch up. But the decision has been made. I’m getting back on this damned motorcycle and I am going to own what should have already been mine. I’m letting two more pounds of air out of both tires. I will find me some traction (or loss thereof) and collect my confidence while I’m at it. I am a girl on a mission. A girl who is intent on making the DTC work it for her. The guys also decide they didn’t have enough yet, swap bikes between themselves, and we head back out. This time I end up in the middle.

I spend the next 11 miles trying to push the front, slide the rear, or make either the RaceABS or DTC intervene; whichever one of those three comes first. I don’t care. I find I’m a little angry. I work my way into racing up to a corner, slamming on the brakes, throwing the bike in, and grabbing a judicious twist of throttle on the way out. Rinse, repeat. Nothing. The tires hold solid. The subtle pulsing of the ABS system or the faint “clicking” of the traction control both remain elusive. Maybe the shit doesn’t work anymore, after all? Well, I do know the RaceABS is in working order. I have finally mustered up the courage to put that one to the test by a few hamfisted, idiotic grabs of the front brake. There was never any doubt that the rear brake was working, that thing goes live when I’m just thinking about maybe using it. A little excessive for my taste, but whatever.

I wave the thought of maybe not having a functional traction control system to save my bacon aside and am wondering if Rick, who is behind me on David’s Ducati, is bothered by me riding like a jackass. He seems to cope fine with my change of riding strategy, but I make a mental note to ask him, and apologize if necessary, at the turn-around spot. I am not worried about hurting David’s feelings, who is undoubtedly playing around with the ZX10R’s ABS/DTC systems as well. He’s a racer and we’ve been doing “skill runs” pretty much all weekend. I’m sure he doesn’t mind my nose up his tail and in his business every corner we come to.

We actually looked quite well together, the three of us. Later inspection of over 200 uploaded low-res digital proofs by the various Dragon photographers confirms my suspicion. Mr. Slow also hands in photographic evidence. 🙂 I hope I meet these guys again. It was a blast riding with them. And next time Rick better bring his wife, who didn’t want to go until he had “checked it out”. I told him to tell her I am mad at her for not showing up.

Miss Busa in the Middle

As I was gradually working my way up to braking later and harder, and accelerating sooner and more aggressively, I felt something I haven’t experienced in a long time. A glimmer of my former bravado and aggressiveness. That something in my personality that I thought had finally been tamed. The little streak of crazy is alive and well and its clawing its way back to the surface. I do believe that to be a good thing. And I have the Dragon to thank for it. Why? Because it rained a little bit.

I had lost a lot of my spunk after crashing last year by tucking the front end into Turn One at Barber Motorsports Park at 120+ mph. A crash that prematurely ended the 2011 racing season for me, because I got to spend my money on fixing my bike rather than actually racing it. A crash that also trashed my confidence without me even realizing the significance of its impact until months later, when I finally got to do another track day and realized I was slower, less confident and more nervous. It took me another few months to pinpoint all the kinks that had developed in my riding as a result. And it was extremely hard to admit that to myself. I blamed it on not getting enough seat time. Yeah, that’s part of it, but that hadn’t slowed me down significantly before I had lost my balls in the kitty litter.

And that is how I do it. This is how I roll.

Check out some of the photos Mr. Slow took. He’s stashed them at FramedByJoe.com (link opens in new window).

I submit to you our first round of Monday morning dragon slaying. There wasn’t much slaying going on quite yet, since the Dragon himself was still pre-coffee and in no mood. 😉

Sunday Pics by Killboy & Co.

Monday Pics by Killboy & Co.


Mr. Slow goes Dragon Slaying

My husband wanted to go on a bike vacation for his birthday and finally become one of the initiated, one of those tough biker dudes who “did the Dragon”. He can now answer the question, that inevitably gets asked of a man when any number of motorcycle riding hooligans find themselves together in a loosely assembled mob of smelly leathers and dirty denim. He can now hold his head high, stick his burley chest out , striking a manly pose; stand tall and answer loudly and proudly: “Yes. I have slain the fabled Dragon. I have gone north in search of the mythical beast and I have drawn blood.” Translation: I found him whilst on his afternoon snooze. I snuck up on him and totally stepped on his tail! The beast woke and breathed fire upon my wife who had been to its lair on a previous raid to inflict pain and suffering upon the monster with the aid of a merry band of rocket-riding wild women. My wife put her knee down and the Dragon slithered off in search for easier prey, such as three drunken Hog Wranglers on a Moonshine run, and his spare set of testicles.

…and they lived happily ever after, for about a week or so.  Can we please do this again? Like every year? How does every second week in May sound!?!

Works for me.


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.


I’m going to Helen, GA for two days…

…so my hubby spent more of my hard-earned BusaCredits and made me take two days off work (which I practically had to lie, steal and cheat for, or so it felt…. like they were doing me a favor, gawd….anyhoo…) and he took off one day (Thursday), and booked us a place up in Helen, GA, which is about 150 miles north of here. A fake German town with an amusing history. Since I’m German this is going to be an interesting adventure in German words spelled wrong in neon. LOL What I really care about is that it’s going to be twisty roads to the place and all around the place. So, I’m going to take my trusty Mac, make use of the modern technological marvel that is satellite imagery and scope out some ‘worthy’ roads for myself. This is probably going to be Kittyhog’s last road trip with me, since she might be going to a new home on Saturday, to a lady who wants to learn how to ride.

I should be getting ready instead of hanging out online, there’s so much to do, but I’m such a procrastinator. I’m looking forward to going. This is my first overnight motorcycle trip that is taking place solely for the purpose of searching out windier roads. I went to the IMS in Greenville, SC in February and we stayed overnight but we didn’t do any riding. It was pretty much a two-wheeled commute. Purposeful. This is strictly pleasure. Kind of nervous, but also excited. New roads, new challenges. Hopefully, I won’t be a sleazeball in the next two days. 🙂

I will report back on Sunday, hopefully with some piccies courtesy of Papa Razzi (my 5-pound, 2-foot, red-ring telephoto-lens carrying Canon fanboi of a husband!)

Update: May 4, 2009 at 11:11pm
My first ‘real’ motorcycle trip was pretty much pushed on me by my hubby. He says: “You better get Thursday and Friday off because we’re going for a ride.” He already had gotten it off, and I had to pull out the heavy manipulation to get my days off. It wasn’t looking good at first, but the powers that be took pity on my wretched self and gave me two off in a row. Trust me, this was a MAJOR accomplishment where I work. So, it was going to happen. I don’t plan anything, because we all know what happens to the ‘well laid plans of mice and men’. I like to shoot from the hip, go with the flow, cross bridges when I get to them and deal with stuff as it presents itself. I was never a girl scout, so I don’t believe in ‘coming prepared’. Where’s the fun in that? I figure all the preparedness I need is in the form of a PDA and the trusty ole MasterCard.

Hubby basically planned the trip, what little planning there was, since he’s a trucker and if he knows anything it’s roads. I think he has an internal database inside his head where he stores EVERY road he’s ever been on, no matter the vehicle he happened to be in. I think he has photographic memory when it comes to asphalt and concrete. I on the other hand get lost in parking lot course marked by orange cones. All the moaning about the roads not being curvy enough around here was finally catching up with me. Hanging off of my Harley Sportster and trying for new ‘personal bests’ in the few good corners we do have around here probably didn’t help much either. Getting rid of the Chicken Strips on the left side of the rear tire probably had something to do with it. It was all going to come to the point where I had to put my money where my mouth was. I was pretty nervous, not scared, but a little anxious. But I was looking forward to it, too. Definitely. I was ready, just not 100% confident in my riding skills that I had accumulated over the past few months.

The trip started out two hours behind what passes around here for a schedule. That’s normal, too. I don’t care. Vacations are for not meeting deadlines, for not making a big deal out of anything, and simply just going with the flow and enjoying oneself doing it. If I wanted to meet a deadline or stay on a planned schedule, I’d stay at work. Some people don’t seem to grasp the concept. And those are the same people that need a vacation from their vacation when they get back home. Plans are diametrically opposed to having a good time, but that’s just me. I come home relaxed and recharged. But I digress… We pack up the farm animals (the hog and the cow) and I tell hubby that I want to stop by Harley to get my hands on a tinted shield for my helmet. So, we ride on over to the dealership and I go inside to make the purchase. They didn’t have any. Bummer. I come back outside and basically have to push some old dude out of the way with the door to get out. Hubby had an audience, and guess what they were talking about? Not Harleys. They were talking about the wife’s plans for trading the hog for a Hayabusa! Gawd… you leave these bums to their own devices for FIVE short minutes and here they are, gossiping like school girls. Here I was in the middle of it, feeling like an animal at the zoo, having to listen to ALL the (MALE) opinions. How you can’t go slow on a ‘busa. How a buddy had one and traded it for a Harley Road King after barely a month. How somebody got killed on one. How that ain’t no bike for a little thing like me. Puuuuuullllleeeeze! My only response was the sweetest, most ladylike smile I could muster and calmly stating that the throttle goes both ways. Then I got on my hog, stuck my Big Ears stereo earplugs in my ears, cranked up my iPod, put my helmet and gloves on and… blasted out of there very unladylike with my cat ears flopping in the breeze, hanging off on the top of the hill and dragging knee to make the corner at speed…. No, not really. But that would HAVE been cool and showed them gruffy old Harley dudes that girls can ride anything they set their mind to. LOL

So, we’re on our way. It’s business as usual, since I’ve been exploring these roads for a few months now. The way there was pretty much straight and boring. So, I concentrated on the scenery and the smells and just going with the flow. I was called a ‘Squidly’ at the first gas stop, since I passed a logging truck that was going 50 in a 55, after being behind him what seemed like forever and a day, by going 90. Not so. I had to defend my passing technique to cruiser hubby, but told him straight out. I rather get a speeding ticket, then hang out in the opposing lane of traffic, taking my sweet time getting around a semi-truck that is causing turbulence in the air currents and the driver of which may just be making a sandwich, smoking a cigarette and yakking on his CB and swerve over in the lane and kill my sorry slow, riding-along-at-speed-limit butt. When I make the decision to pass and deem it safe to do so I hustle. Sorry kids. But every one of us has to make that sort of decision for themselves. Fast forward. It’s getting curvier when we’re getting close to Helen. But the fun is taken right out of enjoying a sequence of S-curves at slightly elevated speeds by several ‘Slow Congested Area’ and ‘Limited Sight Distance’ signs that seemed to be sprouting everywhere. I’ve learned my lesson on out-riding my sight distance and the good student I am, I dutifully slow, and do the right thing. When my GPSr tells me we’re at the hotel, it’s lying. Our brand is nowhere in sight. I’m in the lead, so I cruise along in first trying to find the place. We’re on the right street, but apparently the addresses and the actual coordinates do not mesh properly, which is a common occurrence really. At least in my experience. So, I get to the end of ‘Edelweiss Strasse’, stop at the 4-way and look at Joe, shrugging. He takes the lead. What’s the first thing he does? He hangs a left over a speed bump into a gravel strewn, potholed parking lot to assess the situation. You have got to be kidding me. I pop open my shield and ask him if he ever surveys the area he’s about to pull into? This is the suckiest place to stop in all of deserted Helen (it’s the off-season, so fortunately for me, I have no witnesses if I decide to kill him or lay my bike down, or both)! He just giggles (he knows how I’ve felt about u-turns lately and I think it’s part of his ploy to engage me in some much needed practice) and then says: “Watch This!” and proceeds to waddle-walk is bike around the tight lot and comes to a stop facing the other way. He turns, looks at me and says: “There is no shame in waddle walking.” All I can think of is what a ‘hole he can be, but he’s right. However, I can’t waddle walk anymore, I found out. After all the practice of keeping feet on pegs, I’m way too fast to waddle walk. I try to do a hybrid, but I should have just done what my muscles wanted to do, but no. There is no shame in waddle-walking. This was the most miserable turn ever. Too fast for walking, too slow for counterbalancing, not in the right frame of mind. Indecision causes scratched paint. Luckily I had it enough under control (if you can call it that) not to have a visit from my favorite Uncle. Uncle Gravity, that is. So, we head back out and finally find the hotel, which we passed, but couldn’t see since the sign was covered by a bush and the front of the building was facing parallel to the street.

We pull in next to two other motorcycles, these are sport-tourers, a Beemer and a Triumph, both of which look like they’ve seen a little more than asphalt in their time. Serious bikers. Maybe we should park with the lame cagers on the other end? Nah. We mean business, too. Well, at least I do. Don’t know about my marshmallow butt husband… speaking of which, the pillion is a lot more comfy than the front seat, what’s up with that??? More on that later. I’m all excited. Mountains means curvy roads and the place is deserted. VERY good. There are people sitting out front in rocking chairs watching us. I decide to actually back in my bike, which I do without a problem. I get all giddy, bounce up and down in my seat and cause my helmet, which I had put on the right-hand mirror, to fall off and bounce across the parking lot. Yeah. You go, girl! Go show off, see where that gets ya… Oh well. I’m too excited now to be embarrassed. We go check in, drop our stuff off and decide we’re gonna go eat, on foot, since we both wanted to have a few beers. Hubby changes, I live in my gear, so I have to wait on him… we inquire at the desk where a good place to eat is and follow his directions. First place didn’t have anything in the way of veggies on the menu, so we opt for Plan B. BiggDaddy’s. I have a portobello mushroom burger, home fries, and beer. Some local brew, or something. Started with a T then Gold. Tappani. Tephani, Tiffany.. something… Not a clue, I felt adventuresome. I got drunk on two beers (I always do, since I don’t drink very often) and have diarrhea of the mouth… the topic of discussion? Bikes, bikes, bikes…. Of course, that’s all I talk about lately. Then we wolfed down deep friend cheese cake and went back to the room by detour to the local liquor store. A six pack of Warsteiner for the road. Fast forward, because we are boring people.

Next morning, we barely make it in for the free continental breakfast around 9ish. The other bikers are gone, of course. Real bikers get up at the crack of dawn, we rolled out of bed early, proud to be up at nine. Hubby is a night-shifter, I try to stick somewhat to his schedule otherwise we would never see each other. Besides, mornings suck anyway. While drinking Warsteiner the previous evening I had found myself the bestest motorcycle road ever. Almost as curvy as the Dragon, but with a lot less traffic, I’m sure, and hopefully with a more reasonable speed limit. One problem though: The weather had changed drastically, over night, and there was a storm front moving in from the northwest. Bummer. The clouds hung ominous and black and pregnant in the mountains. We scrap our plans. ☹ Neither of us has any rain gear, I have waterproof liners for my stuff and can probably hang, but Joe was in his summer mesh and would be soaked in no time. Dang it, we need to get around to buying some rain duds. I’m bummed out…. When I leave the hotel by the side door, it’s already raining. Yay! We pack our bikes, get gas and head out. We’ve decided to head southeast, but not too far south, since that would take us out of the mountains and try to stay out of the storm’s way and maybe still get some twisties in. We do. Hubby knows how to find promising roads… I found a decent alternative in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Unfortunately, the roads were wet and there were ‘tree boogers’ everywhere! Not a good combination, nice and slick. So I had to really curb my enthusiasm, but it was good nonetheless. Good practice. After we did one loop, hubby wanted to know if I wanted to go around again. I almost said Hell, yes! But thought better of it. I don’t want to be one of those ‘holes that wear out their welcome by bothering people who are fishing and camping nearby by tooling around the same stretch of road all day. We pretty much headed home, but tried to stay in the ‘hills’ as long as we could, but the weather was playing catch up. Fast forward. The last 40 or so miles before I-20 were painful. My bum was getting sore from all the vibration, my hands and feet were no better. I finally decided that riding on the pillion was way more comfy, so I tooled down the road sitting on the back with my feet on the pegs and my arms stretched out to the handlebars. Ah, so that’s how it feels to ride on a V-Rod. Glad I didn’t get one, forward controls suck. ☺ You definitely see more back here, because you sit up higher. People in cages were giving me strange looks, but a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do. My hubby pulls up next to me at one point, paces me, pops his shield open and we both yell at each other: “My arse hurts!’ and then we cracked up laughing. Yeah, we’re marshmallow butts, alright. The Sporty is a great commuter bike, but a tourer it is not. Hubby is looking into getting a new seat for Mr. Spock, his 2009 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom SE (it’s blacked out like the Nightrod Special…., awesome looking bike!)

The last 20 miles were on I-20. On the on-ramp I almost became a cager sandwich, hold the mustard, plenty of pickle. What a bunch of boneheads. Hubby was way ahead of me, because I got caught waiting for traffic and a red light on the way out from our last gas and coffee stop. So, I’m accelerating down the ramp, with two vehicles in front of me: a semi-truck and a passenger car. I start slowing my approach, since the Interstate is packed around the ramps. Cars are getting over as they can, to make room, but it’s all backing up. The semi merges like a pro. The cager behind him is clearly an idiot: he slows, I catch up with him, fast. He has a hole, he won’t take it. Now traffic is going way faster than him, and it’s starting to get dangerous for me. Decision time. What to do, what to do? I see a hole, crank on some throttle to get back up to the speed of the traffic flow, merge in smooth as butter and at this precise moment Mr. Merge-I-Cannot decides that he needs my lane more than I do, since he’s started making judicious use of the rumble strip already. He comes over towards the middle third of my lane. To avoid being sideswiped, I’m now forced over the white line and now I’m lane-splitting with Mr. Merge-I-Cannot and the car to the left of me, in the passing lane. The dude to the left of me looks like he is about to freak out on me, so I do the only thing I can think of doing before he starts weaving in his lane. One erratic cager’s enough. Slowing down clearly is not an option, there’s cars everywhere. I gas it hard and extract myself out of this rolling metal and plastic booby trap. And I don’t slow down until I have the whole gaggle behind me. I wonder if somebody called in my tag for ‘(w)reckless driving’? I caught up with hubby (as I always do) and sleazeballed my exit. Yeah, I didn’t think I was as close as I actually was. I thought I had another mile to go. Passed a slow semi, then had to squeeze by a car to make it. Yeah, I had to end the trip by being Miss Squidly.

Oh, and hubby toted his entire camera gear with him and didn’t snap a single freakin’ picture! What a lamer! The only thing I got to show for are cell phone piccies I snapped of the food and beer. Ha!