I started this blog basically to satisfy a resolution I made to myself one New Years that after over 10 years of writing about my kids I was going to actually let someone other then my hard drive read any of it. Slowly I’ve added posts here when I find the time to do so but I have no preconceived notions that anyone is actually paying attention. Nor does it really matter to me in the big picture, I’m not looking for platitudes from the family which is why I’ve never shared any of my posts via social media. No one I know even knows about this blog and I kind of like having this anonymous relationship with the world wide web. Whether anyone is listening is not the point, that fact I finally put it out there for consideration is. To that end, I thought it was time to broaden what I write about occasionally beyond my kids. If you’d allow me to indulge myself I’d like to share something new of interest in my life.
I’m not sure if it was my 49th birthday last month but something clicked in me earlier this spring when I had to renew my driver’s license. As I stood there in the line at the license office I saw the computers for taking the written part of your test. The last time I took one of those tests was over twenty years ago when I upgraded my classified license from a class three to a class one which then allowed me to drive any combination of motorized vehicle legal on the roads. Well, all except one, I could drive the biggest trucks around but I still could not drive the smallest which was a motorcycle. In a moment of pure happenstance, I asked what the cost was, $15 was not a lot of money to get your learners permit so I decided to take the test. I was allowed to get something like 6 out of 50 wrong and still pass which I thought would be easy. I breezed through the general driving and signage questions but when they asked specifics about motorcycles I was a bit lost. I was down to my last wrong answer with half the test still to go yet somehow I prevailed. I now had a learners permit so what was I going to do with that?
I remembered a couple friends of ours recommending a local guy, a former bike cop that was now retired and did lessons out of his house. I looked him up and booked myself into the course. I hadn’t been on a bike in 15 years. Even then I still had no experience and I just learned the basics to move a bike around. You see I was working on a TV show and our main hero picture vehicle was a motorcycle. In fact, since it was the star’s ride we had 2 identical bikes for picture and two other different bikes painted the same for stunts. In the second season on the show, we added another character that rode so then we had 6 bikes. As a part of working on the show as the transportation captain, it’s nice to be able to move anything for the camera when asked by the director. As the head of my department on set, I just hated getting one of my guys to always do it for me. If a Teamster doesn’t know how to ride a motorcycle is he really a Teamster some would ask? Well I didn’t want to face that question so I learned how to start a bike and get it from A to B but I never had a license and I never rode a bike outside of whatever closed set we were filming. At the time getting my license was something I was very interested in doing but finding the time when you’re working 100 hours a week is not the easiest thing to do. I even made a pact with my wife while we were in Ireland in 2001 during my hiatus. She wanted to get a tattoo and I said if she was doing that than I was getting my bike license. We walked into a tattoo parlor in Limerick and looked around politely but the level of cleanliness left us uninspired and quite honestly scared. When you’re in a shop and a fly who is used to walking on shit flies in and says “Whoa this place is filthy” then turns around and fly’s right out you have to think twice about letting a needle pierce your skin. She did not get inked that day but when we returned home she got her Celtic knot tattoo but I never got my license. When our first daughter came along a year later that pretty much changed our focus completely and with every new daughter we added what I wanted becoming less and less important.
This year I finally put myself first. OK maybe not first but I finally decided to do something just for myself. I’m not sure if it’s my age since I’m turning 50 next year. I never put “get my motorcycle license” on any bucket list or New Years resolution. None that I recall anyway but I did still made that pact 14 years ago and as JoAnn’s Tattoo fades and needs to be touched up I thought it was high time I followed through on my end. Some of my favorite TV series have been about guys on Motorbikes. Charlie Boorman and Ewan McGregor going around the world or Charlie on his own TV show touring countries including Canada and the US a couple years ago. I’ve read countless books by my favorite rock drummer Neil Peart as he chronicles his own adventures from the saddle of his bike touring the back roads of whatever country the band was touring. It seemed like such a great way to get to a gig. So I’m not a biker, I’ve never owned a bike or had any desire to do so but something keeps drawing me to all these images and stories about riding. I’ve had a long-standing dream to ride a bike across Canada as a result but I’ve never taken the first step to making that a reality. Till now.
The one thing all these riders I’ve followed have in common is they all ride the exact same bike. A BMW R1200GS so even though I’ve never even sat on one before let alone talked with someone who has that is the bike I covet. After reading about this bikes adventures in 4 books and watching in excess of 50 hours of television with this bike at the heart I guess I have good reason to be enamored. None of the riders talking about this machine have a bad thing to say about it and I guess the TV stars won’t since it’s product placement, however, it’s a comment made by Charlie Boorman that’s always stuck with me. For the first series, they filmed that took them around the world they were trying to secure a deal with his preferred bike manufacturer Ducati. That’s what he liked to ride at the time and what he wanted to use for the show but the deal fell through so BMW stepped up. At some point during that first series, Charlie said he’ll never ride anything but BMW again and every show I’ve seen him in since he has been on a BMW. That coming from a seasoned rider meant a lot. BMW should be using that quote in their promotional material. When I think of what I’d like to ride now how could I consider anything else? Every Teamster I know who rides also has a Harley so maybe it’s just the stereotype cliché I want to avoid. I always did go counter to every stereotype that the Teamsters had had thrust onto them over the years by a small subset of the membership but if the cliché fits it’s hard to break. Thankfully I’ve never been one to follow others or fall into the trap of peer pressure so regardless of what everyone else might think, I’m not buying a Harley. Not that there is anything wrong with that of course, for me when it comes to old school muscle bikes my interest lean towards Indian.
I went into my first riding class really knowing very little which meant no bad habits to break so that might be a good thing. The first question my instructor asked us was why we wanted to get a bike license. Something I’d been struggling to answer on my own and now I had to try to express why I wanted this. Was it the influence of the media I had read or watched? Was it to satisfy a 14-year-old pact with my wife? Was I really that annoyed I had a license to drive the largest vehicles on the road but not the smallest? or was it because I was turning 50? I think I can safely say everything was an influence. When you spend over a decade reading about a guy biking to work in a different city every day it starts to become part of your subconscious. I have been dreaming of riding across the country on a bike for years because of these book and TV shows yet I didn’t own a bike or even have the right to ride one yet. Now I finally took that first step. The first day in the saddle riding around a church parking lot was an eye opener. I wasn’t sure if there were any symbolism in the fact that we were learning to do a very high-risk dangerous activity in the parking lot of a church. A place your family maybe parking to say goodbye to you if you really screwed up. I had a friend (who was also Teamster) who lost his life on a bike a few years back so that was on my mind. I don’t attend any organized religion myself but I’d be remiss if I didn’t look up and say a short prayer to please watch my ass. It was shocking how quickly the basic skills of maneuvering the bike came to me. One of the other students in the class was really struggling with it and didn’t pass the basic skills test that day. I don’t think the fact her dad dropped her off for her lesson on his Harley then stuck around to watch helped her confidence much.
The next lesson we were on the open road and though I know the rules of the road I instantly felt very vulnerable without a protective metal jacket. I seemed more intently aware of all my surroundings on a bike. Simple maneuvers like going through an intersection were far less routine. The whole leaning of the bike to turn on winding roads was a bit foreign to me but I quickly got the hang of it even if it scared the shit out of me at times. The first time we got up to over 80KM an hour the wind hitting me really freaked me out. I had a hard time keeping up not because the bike was slow but the sensation of becoming a human kite kept going through my mind so I was backing off. Did I really want to ride all the way across Canada on one of these things or would making it as far as the next town safely now satisfy me? As the weeks went on and I got more rides in I stopped holding the handlebars like they were going to be ripped from my hands. The wind no longer bothered me at speed and my main focus was always keeping up with my instructor and I was doing pretty good. I was getting comfortable in the saddle.
Like with learning anything new sometimes to take a giant leap forward you take a step back and that happened to me last week. One thing we get more than our fair share of here in BC is rain and last week at the very end of our ride we got stuck in the middle of a short downfall. The rain on my helmet visor streamed away nicely so that wasn’t the issue I expected it to be. When a light changed suddenly I figured I was going to get separated from my instructor briefly which was nothing new, he’d wait. However, he made the stop fine, the rider behind him who was on his first open road ride ever hit his rear brakes way to hard to stop and I watched him put the bike on the ground. I’d never seen a motorcycle accident happen right before my eyes. It was all in slow motion, I saw the entire thing, his front wheel still going straight while the back of the bike swung around to his right till I was looking at the side of his bike then it went down, it felt like it took a minute to happen. The bigger problem was I was on the exact same piece of slippery road as him, on the exact same kind of bike and now I didn’t want to hit that rider who was on the ground. I hit my brakes way to hard also and unlike the slow-motion drop I just witnessed my own experience was much quicker. I was down laying on the pavement with the engine still running wondering what happened in the blink of an eye. I guess it’s inevitable at some point when you ride you may put a bike down for whatever reason. No one plans on having a car accident either but those happen all the time too, thankfully my last one of those was decades ago. Now here I was on the ground and in shock at what just happened. I got up right away but my foot that was on the brake pedal as the bike went down took quite a hit. The crushed foot peg I saw when I got the bike up told the story, that’s where my foot was and it’s now crushed, no wonder my foot hurts so much. I was angry at myself for such a stupid mistake but at least neither of us was seriously hurt. I had the bruised foot from hell, a bruised hip and a nice road rash on my right elbow even though my jacket showed no sign of damage. Not sure what I hit my left hand on but I imagine it was pavement as I hit the ground and it didn’t give much play. Riding lesson over instantly only blocks from completion as neither bike could be driven back in this state.
Two days later I was back in the saddle on the same now repaired bike facing any lingering doubt before it had time to manifest into a larger fear. I needed to know that was an anomaly not the norm when riding. Yes, I could have handled it better by not over reacting and hitting my brakes so hard but I’m looking at this as a learning experience. I’m planning on not hitting my brakes so hard the next time I see a rider go down in front of me. Lesson learned. I’m just glad if it had to happen it was after many hours of riding and not my first ever ride like the other fella that went down that day. That might have ended it for me right there. I’m still hobbling around with a swollen foot and a bruised ego but my desire to keep riding and get more comfortable in the saddle remains intact. First, I get the license then I’ll worry about how to tell the wife I want the motorcycle that goes with it. I don’t think she really believed me when I told her I have a class one license and I don’t own a truck when I told her I was going to take bike lessons and she was sure I was going to buy a bike right away. Of course, she was right and I don’t think I even believed the BS I was shoveling when I said I didn’t want a bike. For now, I’m just going to keep riding towards that license and keep my eye on the prize and in the future I’ll try stay on two wheels at all times.