Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Because you shouldn't GPS, text, and ride

"Tattoo" Directions
Life has been a little nerve-wracking lately... for lots of reasons. My roommate noticed the fervor of my nerves linger past midnight one recent evening. I awoke to a “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster resting on my laptop.

This brought back memories of critical moments of following this sound advice. When I was first learning to ride, I decided to adhere to a strict rule: Do not ride on any road I wouldn’t dare bicycle. I figured motorcycling is mostly dangerous because of the “others”. By eliminating the risk of collision with 18-wheeler trucks and speeding cars by riding low-speed and scenic back roads, I hoped to significantly reduce the risk as a newbie rider. At least in terms of mathematical equations, I think it makes sense.

After a few days of only practicing on the local roads around the condo, I decided to go for a practice ride to Carderock and back, a beloved local after-work climbing destination for cliff-starved Washingtonians. Riding out there was pure joy! Pleasant temperatures, sunshine, forested roads with majestic views of the Potomac River in all of its high water glory!

Coming back, panic threatened.
The sun shone.
The trees sprinted by.
The road twisted and turned.
I followed.

I accidently merged onto Interstate 495.

As soon as I realized what was happening, my initial reaction was to panic.
“I’ve only been riding a week in the parking lot!”
“fast cars!!!!”
‘oh my!”

So that’s how Dorothy felt when she realized there where lions and tigers in the woods around her.

As I leaned into that final curve to merge, a tattoo flashed into my mind that I saw the day before on one of my customers: “Keep calm and carry on”. It dawned on me. Do not panic!  
My Seattle roommate left a reminder on my laptop one recent morning
I have a towel, right? Keep calm, carry a towel.... for some reason at the moment I felt satisfied that all I needed to know at the moment was outlined in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Indeed, I did have a small towel in my saddle bag!

Talk about going back to the basics.

My mind raced back to the current situation. The only thing I could do was to keep calm, enjoy the moment, and carry on to the next exit, right?

Rolling the throttle, I tested the limits of my so-far faithful 250cc Honda Rebel. 45 mph. 50. I was already beyond the fastest I’ve been. 60. 65. 70! 75!! I flew past the cars until I realized the speed limit was 55mph on that particular stretch.  oops.

Two miles later, I reached the next exit, relieved to once again be in my security blanket of back-roads. Mission accomplished! And it felt good.

But now I faced a new problem. Despite being on back-road safety after two miles of beltway adrenaline, I was now.... completely lost.

After consulting my phone map, I realized it would require a series of left and ride turns to get back on track onto a familiar road. Unlike in a car, a motorcyclist cannot casually glace at a phone, GPS or a map during a red light or stop sign. I quickly realized I’m not very good at memorizing a series of random left and right turns on unfamiliar roads, so I found myself even more lost... and as a result, getting stuck in Georgetown rush hour traffic. As a motorcyclist in Washington, DC I now know that M street at rush hour truly is hell on Earth with snarling hot acidic fumes threatening to suck the life out of me on a summer day.

The next time I went somewhere new, I carefully consulted a map, familiarized myself to the furthest extent I could, and wrote cue cheats on my left wrist (so I wouldn’t have to let go of the clutch while pulling up my jacket sleeve). It’s so easy to just lift your jacket sleeves while at red light or stop sign.

If anyone asks, I just say it’s my biker tattoo.

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