Monday, July 7, 2014

Unexpected Goal

In 2006, gas prices went over $3 a gallon for the first time in my local area.
I told myself that if gas ever went over $3 a gallon, I would buy a bike. Gas prices soared. I bought the bike.
A scooter actually. Not a motorcycle. A Honda PS250 “Big Ruckus”. I saw someone riding one up in Cambridge, MA, when I worked there across the street from MIT. It looks like someone cut an ATV in half; so ugly you couldn’t help but love it.
I figured that I would start small and work my way up as I got used to riding. I chose the 250cc engine because that was the smallest engine size legal to use on the highway and I wanted a bike that had no restrictions against its use.
I had always wanted to get a motorcycle. What I didn’t know was that inside me was a rider just waiting for the chance to hit the road.
My initial impetus to get a motorcycle appeared in college. Most people would say what attracted them to riding was the freedom of the road. The feel of the air moving over your body. The ability to dance on the road with the flick of the handlebars. Others, because it was a way they could indulge in being obnoxious to others. My reason? Photography.
I had bought my first real camera. I developed such a passion for taking pictures, I had complete strangers find me with no more description than, “The guy with the camera.” I always had a talent for spotting unusual things to the point where I mystified and astounded people when I noticed these tiny, obscure sights. Taking pictures allowed me to share what I could see with other people. I quickly discovered for all the amazing things I saw along the road, it was incredibly inconvenient to stop the car—safely—to get a picture of what I saw.
Frequently, I found I had to stop at times up to quarter or half mile away in order to walk back to get the picture I spotted because there was no safe place to stop the car. At one point, I noted if I had a motorcycle, I could have gotten the picture easily by just pulling to the side and taking the picture without ever having to dismount the bike.
Thus, started my earnest desire to have a motorcycle.
One week after I bought it, the bike was finally at my house, waiting to be ridden for the first time.
It was the lot bigger than I thought it was. When sitting next to other bikes, it clearly is not the biggest bike out there. But to actually grab the handlebars and throw my leg over it… It was a lot bigger than it looked.
It balanced so much differently from a bicycle. All the weight was below my body, unlike on a bicycle where all the weight is my body. You don’t lean a motorcycle when it is stopped without having the kickstand down. Trust me on this.
After years of peddling until I almost passed out from exhaustion, what an incredibly sensation to twist the throttle and start to roll. The fastest speed I ever went on a bicycle was between 50–55 MPH, but most of the time my average speed was around 13 MPH. Getting up to 30MPH on the PS250 with no effort felt like I was roaring along near the speed of light.
My intended goal for the scooter was to commute to the train station. It consumes less than a third of the gas my car does. Not only that, I could tuck the scooter under the stairs and thereby not have to pay for a parking space. Not only was I realizing a gasoline savings, but I was also saving the hefty parking fees.
It took me a month before I was comfortable enough on the bike to take it on its intended use. As I always stuck to the backroads while learning how to ride it, this also meant it was the first time I actually opened the throttle and took it over 40MPH.
I had never before felt the pressure of the bow wave developing when creating a wake in the air. You can see the bow wave in front of a ship on water, and you can feel it as the sudden thump of air when a truck or train passes you at high speed. It’s surprising to feel it form around you when you are on a motorcycle, and because you are in it, it doesn’t go away. It actually makes breathing a little difficult. This explains why our forefathers didn’t think cars would be able to go over 60MPH because they thought the driver would suffocate.
You don’t. You just learn to regulate your breathing, and the sensation goes away forgotten. Now, I’m so used to it that it actually takes a conscious effort to notice the effect.
It didn’t take long before the seven-mile commute to the train station became an eighteen-mile commute back home each day. And then further. Then one day I finally brought the purpose to riding that I had initially envisioned. I threw my camera bag on the back of the bike and went for a ride.
My first ride onto the highway.
I had flirted with the upper speeds of my scooter before, but this was the first time I really put it to the test. I opened the throttle and my scooter was more than happy to leap up to highway speeds. (Well, crawl up…)
I discovered I was a rider.
Any excuse to throw a leg over the bike and go was a good excuse. Rain? That’s what rain gear was for. Cold? I just kept adding another layer of insulation and discovered I was quite comfortable riding throughout the winter. The only thing that stopped me was ice; you just can’t keep a bike upright if the tires can’t grip the ground.
Riding a motorcycle is significantly more physical and mental than driving a car. You constantly have to move your body around when maneuvering the bike. You have to constantly scan the world around you for any potential danger or threat. It can really tire you out. Yet the mental focus needed to stay safe reaches the point of meditation. All unnecessary thoughts and concerns melt away with the miles. The singularity of purpose in your mind clears out the cobwebs and the excess baggage.
I have friends who are true long-distance riders: Iron Butt Riders. I would learn about the miles they racked up and be amazed.
It wasn’t until I was up around 18,000 miles on my odometer that I discovered I was doing something unusual with my scooter. I was at an event with friends, and noticed a couple of bikers checking out my scooter across the parking lot. One did a double-take and grabbed his friend and pointed at the odometer.
I didn’t think I would reach 30,000 miles on my PS250. Yet I did. It just started happening. Suddenly, the mileage I thought was so impressive began to roll past and became part of my own score.
Each 10K was a new milestone for that bike and I began planning those special rides so I would end up someplace interesting for the photo. Each was an unexpected goal.
I planned the trip for 70,000 for the Quabbin Overlook in Pelham, MA, because it was always one of my favorite places to pause. The overlook was a surprise to me the first time I saw it. Because my route home from school always had me going the other way, I didn’t know it existed until I found myself on an unexpectedly long bicycle ride brought me to it the spring of my freshman year.
I thought it fitting for reaching one of these 10K milestones on my scooter. An unexpected place for an unexpected goal.