Take It Easy

Grace, Ease and Joy . . . Sometimes

I have been commuting to work regularly on my motorcycle. Mornings are pleasant, motoring down the road in the cool air, smelling the sweet trees and flowers, and feeling calm and confident.

At these times, I feel grace, ease and joy and have a sense of oneness with my bike and my surroundings.

When I leave work, it’s often a different story.

I’m tired, and sometimes have difficulty shifting between first and second gears, inadvertently landing on neutral. When I do get it into second gear, I often then will over-rev the engine as I try to get into the higher gears. I feel embarrassed and stressed.

I think this happens partly because I am exhausted from work, but also because I am still nervous about traffic, which is more congested at 5:00.

I wind up struggling with the bike, which makes me even more tense and tired.

The other day when this was happening, a wise inner voice said “take it easy.” This really helped calm me down. I realized I didn’t need to rush my shifting – just ease it into second, third, fourth, fifth.

I know, too, that if I struggle, I need to immediately forgive myself. Easing up on myself helps make the ride go more smoothly.

 

Training

Sunday, June 18, I did my first major ride in preparation for going to Buena Vista. I decided to go to Conifer, which is on Highway 285 up Turkey Creek Canyon, a round-trip of 92 miles.

I had been dreading a couple things about this ride.

I was not looking forward to riding on C-470, which is a six-lane highway with a minimum speed of 65 miles per hour. I drive on a portion of this highway when I travel in my car to go to Buena Vista.

My bike can certainly maintain speeds in excess of 65 mph, but I did not relish the thought of jockeying for position in the traffic.

I thought that I might be able to find a side route, and wound up going down Highway 93 from Boulder to Golden, then taking Heritage Road south past Dinosaur Ridge and Red Rocks to Morrison.

This was great, but there were droves of people in Morrison, which is a bit of a tourist trap.

I found my way to Highway 8, which led south out of Morrison and merged with US 285, going up Turkey Creek Canyon.

Morrison map

Turkey Creek Canyon is a twisty stretch of four-lane roadway that climbs up to over 8,000 feet, heading southwest from the Denver Metro area. The west- and east-bound lanes are separated with a wide median.

I wasn’t worried about going up the canyon. It was going down that made me nervous.

I made it up the canyon no problem, even passing a couple of slow-moving large trucks.

I got to Conifer, a town along the 285 corridor with a lot of stores along the highway. I stopped and had lunch, resting a bit in the shade and enjoying the gorgeous summer day.

I wound up not feeling nervous at all as I headed back down the canyon, making it down just fine. I got stuck behind a trailer about a mile from my exit, but decided to stay put, going the 45-mile-per-hour speed limit.

I am actually finding that I like doing twisty roads!

My next goal is to do the Peak-to-Peak Highway, one of Colorado’s Scenic and Historic Byways. This will give me some experience with steep roads and tight bends, as well as take me through some beautiful country.

peak_to_peak08

The only way to learn is to do.

I will be riding to Buena Vista on Saturday, July 8 and returning on Monday, July 10. I am looking forward to it!

I am inspired by the Van Buren sisters, mentioned in my last post, who managed to cross the country in 1916 on their Indian motorcycles, in spite of bad weather and terrible roads. If they can do that, I can certainly ride 280 miles round trip to Buena Vista!

 

Recovery and Renewal

As last reported, I got my bike to the shop after it died on May 31st.

After the technician worked with it a bit, it turns out it really was just low on gas. They switched over to the reserve tank and it was fine.

Although I was a little embarrassed about this, I am glad I got it into the shop, as it did need some other service, including an oil change.

On top of that, the tech found that the fork seals were wearing and would need to be replaced soon, so I asked them to go ahead and do that. With worn seals, the fork lubricant seeps out and this compromises the front suspension. I only noticed this when coming to a stop, when the front end would lurch.

In addition, the front tire was nearly bald and had cracks around the edges! I was very lucky that it hadn’t blown out.

I got tires from my brother, as he had ordered them late last year. He had assumed my bike was a “Custom” model, and ordered those tires. It turns out my bike is actually a “Classic,” which has different tire dimensions than the Custom. The back tire fit, but the front tire did not. Luckily, the shop had the right size front tire for me!

The fork seals had to be ordered, so my bike was in the shop until Saturday, June 10. This gave me time to get over a cold and to contemplate what riding means to me.

Not having my bike with me helped me realize how much I have been bonding with it, even in just a month. Riding is increasing my confidence and helping release my adventurous spirit! During this time, I have been contemplating doing some longer rides, including going to Buena Vista for a weekend visit, a distance of 140 miles each way. I will do this trip after the July 4th holiday.

My brother and I are talking about doing a longer trip in early summer of 2018. We’ll go from central Colorado into Utah to visit Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. We’ll then loop south to come back into Colorado through the southwest portion of the state. I am looking forward to helping with the planning of this trip!

…And I may need a bigger bike.

Recently, I have been reading a couple of books which are very inspiring.

Women, Motorcycles and the Road to Empowerment, by Liz Jansen, is a wonderful account of the author’s own journey, on and off the bike, and includes stories from 50 other amazing woman riders. Liz has profound insights about the connections between riding and living which really resonate with me.

Grace and Grit: Motorcycle Dispatches from Early Twentieth Century Women Adventurers, by William M. Murphy, is an engaging book covering the early days of transportation. The author describes the adventures of early 20th Century female motorcycle pioneers, including Adeline and Augusta Van Buren, Effie and Avis Hotchkiss and Della Crewe, among many others. You really get a clear sense of the physical and societal barriers that these women were up against when they undertook their journeys, succeeding in spite of them!

Here are the Van Buren sisters, at the end of their coast-to-coast ride in 1916:

Van Buren

Over the next couple of weeks, I will share my experiences as I train to do the long ride to Buena Vista.

How Far I Have Come!

I am very grateful to live and work in Boulder County, Colorado. It is a beautiful place, with lots of good quality roads for motorcycling, varied terrain and beautiful scenery. Here is a picture of Baseline Reservoir, which I pass on my way to work:

Baseline Reservoir

It’s been nearly a month since I got my motorcycle endorsement and I have made excellent headway with my skills, time in the saddle and confidence.

Insights

  • I have learned to release expectations about routes and mileage, adopting a flexible approach based on weather and how I feel.
  • Having a relaxed approach to riding helps me practice active awareness, as well as letting go of fear and embarrassment. I have learned to lighten up about my mistakes and awkward moments – stalling at intersections, getting stuck in neutral, shifting roughly – quickly recovering and getting on down the road.
  • First and foremost, I have courageously staked my claim to my spot on the road.

Motorcycle Maintenance

Although I have had minor technical problems with the bike, I realize that I need to increase my knowledge about bike maintenance. I have to know how to troubleshoot mechanical issues on the road. My brother will be helping me in this area.

I mentioned earlier that my left mirror started coming loose on one ride. This was an easy fix. Other issues won’t be so simple to remedy.

This week, when I was getting ready to head out to work, the bike was very difficult to start. It sounded like it wanted to turn over, and finally did after several tries. I contacted my brother, and after several messages back and forth he said I should get a new battery.

While at work that day, I went out a couple of times to start the bike, and it started with no problems.

It turned out that I hadn’t needed to have the choke out that morning to start the bike. The choke is only needed when the bike has sat awhile and the engine is cold. I likely had flooded the engine with the choke out and numerous start-up attempts. (Please note: my bike is a 2001 and has carburetors and a manual choke. If you have a newer bike it likely has fuel injection, so you won’t encounter some of these problems!)

My brother still advised I get a new battery, since we didn’t know the history of the old one.

 

Sample Rides

To wrap up this month, I am going to give you a sample of some of the rides I did. This will demonstrate how I am gradually increasing my comfort zone as I travel greater distances from my home and practice my skills.

 

The day I got my license!

In an earlier post, I shared that the day I did my riding test I was operating mostly on pure adrenaline, as I was too keyed-up about the test to sleep much the night before. Even with that, that afternoon I had to take my bike on her maiden voyage with me as a legally licensed rider!

Route: From my house in Lafayette, west on S. Boulder Road to 95th Street, north to Lookout, west to 75th, south to Valmont, east to 95th, back home.

Approximate Mileage: 10

Here is a link to the route:

My Google Maps – Home to Lookout Road

 

First Shopping Run

This may not seem like such a big deal, but it was to me as it was the first time I was going to park my bike at a store and buy something, which turned out to be cat food!

Route: West from my house on South Boulder Road, south on Cherryvale, east on Marshall Road to Superior, where I got cat food. North on McCaslin, east on Dillon, north on 95th all the way to Highway 52. East on Highway 52 to US 287. South on 287 back home.

Approximate Mileage: 15-20

Here is a link to the route:

My Google Maps – Marshall Road to Hwy 52

 

First Longer Ride

Route: West from my house on South Boulder Road, south on 95th Street, west on Dillon, south on McCaslin to Highway 128. North on Highway 93 to Highway 170. West to Eldorado Springs. U-turn where the pavement ended, back out to 93. North on 93 all the way to Nelson Road. East on Nelson to Hover/95th Street in Longmont. South on 95th Street back home.

Approximate Mileage: 52

Here is a link to the route:

My Google Maps – Eldorado Springs to Longmont

 

These rides have given me practice in turning, moderate curves, riding in traffic and riding at highway speeds (up to 70 miles per hour). I also got a little bit of practice in maneuvering the bike on sandy gravel. When I took a break on Nelson Road, I decided to pull off onto the gravel shoulder, only to discover that the sand was very slippery! The front tire slipped a bit but I got the bike stopped all right. My feet even slipped under me when I touched down.

So, I have come a long way from when I was cautiously riding up and down in front of my mom’s house, a quarter-mile back and forth, and practicing in the neighboring parking lot.

Last week I rode four times into work, braving the threat of rain only to be blessed with good weather every day. On a visit home, I rode my brother’s V-Star 1100 for the first time, racking up about 55 miles riding down to a neighboring town and back and having a blast! Here I am on the 1100:

Nancy on VStar 1100

What’s Next for Me:

  • Riding at night.
  • Riding to Buena Vista from Lafayette to visit my mom and go on some rides with my brother. This is 140 miles one way and includes hills, passes, curvy mountain roads and windy high-altitude flat grasslands.
  • Riding the Peak-to-Peak Highway. Most of this route is rated “difficult” on my Colorado motorcycle map. It includes steep grades and tight curves.

 

As a beginning rider, have faith that you too can gain the confidence to venture out from your comfortable, safe home. Yes, you will have jitters when you first start. Keep getting on the bike. Keep practicing. Keep being safe. The open road awaits!

Releasing Expectations & Dealing with Your Comfort Zone

This past week I had high hopes for increasing my miles and getting in at least a short night-time practice ride.

The weather had other ideas. The week started off with afternoon rain, then we got socked with a late spring heavy, wet snowfall, which went from Thursday into Friday.

Even with rain in the forecast, I did ride to work both Monday and Tuesday. I figured I might as well get some practice riding in the rain, although I don’t yet have proper rain gear. Monday was a slow, wet slog home, and I made the mistake of going a different route which had worse stop-and-go traffic than my original route. I did, however, get lots of practice with the “friction zone,” going at very slow speed with the clutch and throttle slightly engaged. It is good to acknowledge the learning in every situation.

I rode about 25 miles on Saturday. I had wanted to do more, but there was a cool west wind and I was fatigued. In addition, the bolt at the base of my left mirror had loosened and the mirror was flipping back and forth! I stopped and hand-tightened the bolt. I am glad I paid attention to my energy level and cut the ride short after that.

I am learning that it is good to be flexible and release expectations about frequency and length of rides, considering the often unpredictable weather we have here on the Colorado Front Range, as well as paying attention to how I feel.

Although I am enthusiastic about increasing my mileage and skill level, I need to temper that enthusiasm with common sense and know when I need to focus on self-care. Sometimes I think my Inner Critic, who wants to keep me safe, will tell me to stay off the bike, on the pretense it is self-care, but I am really just giving in to fear.

One of the things I would like to master is riding on some of our scenic mountain roads, which can have a lot of twists and turns and hairpin-bends. When I started contemplating riding on some of these roads, I started feeling scared.

Every new thing I want to do which generates fear is another Comfort Zone membrane I bump up against. All of the skills that I hope to accomplish on the bike represent different comfort zone layers that must be confronted and pushed through by action.

There is no deadline by which I need to learn to ride at night or master the technical finesse required of curvy mountain roads. Some of these skills will take longer than others to acquire. I am aware of the greater risk involved in riding on these roads, but won’t let that scare me away from them.

Riding at night is a matter of traveling more slowly and allowing greater distance between you and other vehicles. It doesn’t require any special technical skills – just awareness and hazard avoidance. Wearing light colors and having reflective patches helps, as does having a brightly-lit bike!

motorcycle-many-lights

 

I will be able to ride at night fairly soon. That, for me, is mainly a matter of pushing through the comfort zone and releasing my story that a dark road is a scary place for a motorcyclist!

Navigating the bike on twisty roads in the mountains also requires awareness, but includes the use of technical maneuvers including leaning with the bike, positioning yourself in the lane so you can see the greatest distance around the curve, and looking through the curve.

Learning to maneuver the bike on those curvy roads will take a lot of practice, as I learn what my bike can do and how my bike and I work together as a team. It again all comes down to being relaxed, having confidence in the skills you have practiced, knowing that the bike will go where you tell it to, and knowing what it takes for you to push yourself and your bike through that next comfort zone.

jkie_73897d_0875_Flagstaff_Motorcycle

Learn by Doing and Motorcycle Mindfulness

plate

Here is my great license plate, which I love! The Department of Motor Vehicles generated this random sequence of letters and numbers, but I think it’s a wonderful statement of individuality and self-expression: “Unique, one-of-a-kind”!

It’s been nearly two weeks since I got my motorcycle license and I’ve got a few miles in and a few tales to tell.

I work at an office in downtown Boulder, Colorado, a distance of about 11 miles from my home. I rode my bike to work on May 5 and May 12. The 5th promised to be a clear, warm day, a great day to ride. I was a little nervous, as it was my first day to ride in. Before my first few trips out, I noticed I would get a little worked up – my heart would beat faster and I would get a little shaky. Once I got on the bike I was fine. This is still happening, since I’m such a new rider. I am assured that this is a normal response, as my friend Tim, who has been riding a few years, mentioned that had happened to him.

So I set out on Friday the 5th, glad I’d worn my leather jacket as it was cool, particularly with the wind chill. I’d chosen a less-trafficked route and did well for the most part. I stalled at a couple of stop signs, but got the bike going again immediately. I was very proud to walk into work with my jacket and my helmet! The ride home went well.

Friday the 12th was a different story. I woke up too early, and hadn’t slept enough the previous two nights either. I made it okay to work, but couldn’t get the bike into neutral to roll it into my parking space! Later on the way home, there were several instances when I would be trying to start back up from a stop and had tremendous difficulty shifting from neutral down to first gear! Nobody honked at me when this happened, but I was very frustrated.

What I have learned so far from these two rides into work, and other rides, is that when I am relaxed and well-rested, my motor skills are good. Also, I think some of the nervousness comes from some old stories I have that I should not be “in the way” and shouldn’t inconvenience people, coupled with a worry that I will stall the bike and stop traffic, causing people to get upset with me. I have actually found I am calmer in traffic than I thought I would be.

I realize that if I haven’t had enough rest, or don’t feel well, I should not get on the bike, no matter how good the weather is!

Most of this past week was rainy and not great for getting out on the bike after work. I went out one day after work and found that my skills were improving with quick starts and smooth shifting through the gears. In the motorcycle course, we practiced getting going slowly in first gear, and the instructors would have us walk our feet on the ground until we got up to speed. I think I was carrying this over as a bad habit into my riding. When my brother was helping me, he would say “just do it.” And I finally got it! From a stop, I give the bike plenty of throttle and immediately put my feet on the foot pegs. My self-confidence is increasing as a result.

Saturday, May 13, I got plenty of sleep and planned a longer ride than I had been doing. It was a bright, warm day with a light breeze. Lots of people were out enjoying this pleasant spring day – motorists, bicyclists and other motorcyclists. It is great fun to greet other motorcyclists who are going the opposite direction, and to have them acknowledge you. The standard greeting is to extend your left arm slightly and subtly point with one or two fingers at the oncoming rider (not that finger!). When I first experienced this, I knew I had arrived! I feel a camaraderie with other motorcyclists. (Not everyone does the wave – guys on “crotch rockets” don’t, and my brother tells me hard-core “bikers” generally don’t.)

Biker's Wave

I wound up riding 52 miles! I did a big loop through Boulder County, enjoying smooth asphalt, gentle curves, the fresh smells of spring grass and trees, and the camaraderie of the road. I got more practice at highway speeds – 65 mph – and a little stop-and-go traffic. It all goes with the territory.

I am learning that being relaxed is key. Once you get through the initial basic function of the bike, you can settle into the ride. It can be a form of active meditation. Riding a bike requires mindfulness – alert, present-moment awareness. Release worry over the “what-ifs” – what if that driver cuts me off, what if a dog runs in front of me, what if I have a flat tire. Be prepared by practicing emergency maneuvers, but let go of the worry, as it will detract from the enjoyment of riding.

I am not the only person making a connection between mindfulness and motorcycling! Check out this good post:  Biker Buddha

Next week: more rides, including getting brave to ride at night!

Introduction to Riding

bike

Harley and the Davidsons

 

“What?!” “You want to learn to ride a motorcycle?”

This was my brother’s incredulous reaction to my declaration that I had gotten inspired to learn to ride motorcycles.

How did this happen?

In September of 2016, I viewed a wonderful documentary called “Harley and the Davidsons” about the beginning of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle company, in the early years of the 20th Century. The production was excellent and conveyed a sense of the era, with the sets and costuming, down to the manufacture of accurate reproduction motorcycles, crafted from original drawings.

The show captured your imagination and transported you back to the open roads and fields where the early riders tested prototypes and raced each other.

I was particularly inspired by a female character, representing one of the early woman motorcycle enthusiasts. These women dared to be different, following their passion to share in the fun of riding, in spite of what refined society might think.

Here is a link to Amazon, where you can purchase the show:

http://amzn.to/2qMIyBU

 

Motorcycle Training Course

 

From that inspiration, I decided to take a motorcycle training course, and signed up for a beginning course at the Motorcycle Rider Training Center in Lakewood, Colorado. I was excited to get started!

With the course, if the participant passed the written and riding tests, he or she would get a certificate to present to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get their motorcycle riding endorsement.

My course was in mid-October 2016, and went from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon.

Friday night was classroom instruction, which continued Saturday morning. We started riding practice Saturday afternoon. Bear in mind, this was my first time on a bike as a rider. I had only been a passenger many years before.

We practiced walking the bike in neutral, gear shifting, braking and some maneuvers, with maneuvers continuing the next day.

Sunday afternoon we were tested on riding skills and I failed miserably.

I was devastated.

After I recovered, I was not going to let this experience deter me from learning to ride.

If any of you are interested in the courses offered at the Motorcycle Rider Training Center, here is the link:

https://www.motorcycleridertrainingcenter.com/

However, if you have never been on a motorcycle, you might consider practicing with a friend or family member before taking the beginner course. It was very difficult to master the motor skills required to pass the riding test in such a short amount of time.

 

My Bike

 

My brothers and I eventually found a great used bike for me – a 2001 Yamaha V-Star 650! (Pictured at the top of this page.) We picked it up in November and my younger brother, Hilary, kept it where he lives to store it for the winter.

Hilary helped me learn the basics. He has ridden for years, and, although he has had no formal training, has great riding and technical skills as well as patience!

I practiced parking lot maneuvers with him and did some short rides.

In April 2017 I passed my written test and got my learner’s permit. This allowed me to ride with other licensed riders. Hilary and I continued my training, and I scheduled my riding test for May 1, 2017.

I was very scared I would fail the test, and had to assure myself I had a lot more training than when I was in the course. I actually went to the riding test location and mapped out the course. Hilary and I taped out parts of the course in a parking lot for my training.

May 1st arrived and I was quivering with adrenaline, nerves and hardly any sleep from the night before.

The first maneuver was the cone weave, in which I had to tightly swerve the bike around five cones spaced 12 feet apart. I got around the first three okay, hit the third, missed the fifth and went out of bounds. Eight points docked already with 10 points being the maximum you could have and still pass!

I was freaking out.

The other maneuvers I passed: right turn from a stop, U-turn and quick stop. On the swerve maneuver, getting up to speed and swerving around a cone, I lightly clipped the cone but the instructor didn’t dock me.

She said “I’m going to give your license.” Music to my ears!

Relief, pride, exhaustion.

That afternoon, still energized by adrenaline, I did my first ride, my maiden voyage as a legal rider!

I must point out that as of this writing I am 59 years old. You are never too old to learn a new skill or follow your dreams.

 

In my next post:

My first ride to work and insight about riding.