fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)

a milestone and 10,000 miles wiser

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By the time you read this it’ll be official. I’ll have ridden 10,000 miles on two wheels.

There are those who’ll say I was getting in front of a possible midlife crisis with the purchase of my first motorcycle just about four and a half years ago. I’d disagree. The idea of riding has bounced around my brain since riding a friend’s off-road bike, so long ago as a kid.

Like fly fishing, riding was one of those things that looked fun, but something I never truly could envision myself doing. And like fly fishing, choosing to ride any particular day influences planning, gear and even the pace.

To be clear, in both cases I favor a slower pace.

This pace was reflected in the process that led me to motorcycling, starting with a Motorcycle Safety Foundation class, just to see if I might possess the skills to ride and to determine — taking into account the possibility of dropping someone else’s motorcycle — whether it still offered the enjoyment I remembered from years ago.

I’d be remiss to not give credit to my wife, who works in the healthcare field and often used the term “donor-cycle,” for supporting my desire to at least try motorcycling. Even knowing that my dad had a decidedly unpleasant motorcycling accident that led to his not riding, I went ahead with registration for the class — with my oldest son joining me — with no particular plan to purchase a motorcycle. That’s not to say I didn’t have thoughts about something in the Honda CB series… Sean and I both passed the class with flying colors and by early December 2007 our driver’s licenses carried an M1 endorsement.

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The first bike.

Though I had no immediate plan buy a motorcycle, the universe had something else in mind. Only four weeks after getting my M1 endorsement I became the owner of a venerable 1982 Honda CB650SC with about 8,000 miles on it. Now owned by my son, this vintage Nighthawk gently taught me the basics. It was a great starter bike; easy and fun to ride. It also taught me that two-wheeled transportation, while giving one a true appreciation for highway speeds, can make one feel more connected to the world. Maybe it’s the safety-conscious swiveling of my head, but I seem to see more when riding.

I definitely feel more when riding. My commute is about 30 miles one way on a state highway that passes through reclaimed marshland of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge, farmland and by a cattle ranch, all the time skirting the upper edge of San Francisco Bay. (Technically it’s San Pablo Bay.) Despite protective riding gear, the microclimates are readily apparent. When the weather’s warmer, the water of the marshes retain enough heat to create a “banana belt” that makes my early morning ride more comfortable. But once I drop over a small ridge, heading closer to the coast, the air temperature invariably drops 5 to 10 degrees.

Over a year and a half with the 650, I learned basic repairs, added a vintage luggage rack, overcame a fear of riding in the rain and took a good number of local trips.

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Two bikes, two fly rods, two reels and an extra gallon of gas.

It was sad to see that first bike go, but nice to know it’d still be in the family. Even more exciting was the fact that on July 24, 2009, I took possession of a motorcycle that through its production years (1992-2003) had been my favorite: the Honda CB750F/Nighthawk 750. Mine’s from ’97 and had less than 4,000 miles on it when purchased. It’s now fitted with a windscreen, luggage and risers. I like it and its average of nearly 50 mpg.

Sean and I took our first long motorcycle trip after I bought the 750, heading over familiar roads and fly fishing along the way.

So here I am, 10,000 miles later. Yes, there have been two close calls, both due to inattentive drivers. (And yes, my wife knows about them.) I’m thankful that whomever is watching over me is doing so and I’ve learned to ride within my limits. I’ve come to grudgingly accept that the buffer I put between myself and the car in front of me is often instead seen by “cagers” (car drivers) as an opportunity.

Those who know me know I take care of my vehicles. But the motorcycle is unlike the cars. Once and a while I find myself simply staring at the motorcycle, an old-school symbol of freedom, still not fully believing I own and regularly ride one.

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