Wednesday, July 11

Back among the living...

Been doing far more riding than writing lately. But I’m back! Visited Brookfield Zoo (BZ) recently, a place I haven’t been since the darling daughter was a little one—at least 15 years! I don’t remember the cost back then, but visiting BZ now isn’t cheap! In addition to an $8 parking fee, I forked over an admission fee and three separate fees to visit specialty section: children’s zoo, the dolphin arena, and a butterfly exhibit. Let’s just say, I spent $25 before seeing one animal. I couldn’t help think about a family outing with multiple children—don’t even think about feeding the little ones once you get in. A regular (it was small) soda was $2.25! Free refills if you wanted to spend $3.25 on a large drink. Let’s encourage greed! I realize that dollars are needed for the care and feeding of the zoo’s residents and for the staff and animal trainers. Still, it was a rude awakening.

Unfortunately, I went on Sunday, a scorching, sultry, humid day to which only small children seemed oblivious as they ran about thrilled at the sights, smells, and sounds around them. However, many of the animals had sense enough to avoid their outdoor quarters, preferring instead the cooler indoors. The few animals outside were motionless and resting in wet areas or buckets watered for their comfort. Some sat placidly underneath shaded foliage.

The ride to Brookfield was uneventful. Even thought it was hot, I remain comfortable in my head-to-toe gear. I wore a short mesh jacket and lightweight textile over pants. Amazingly, my tall Sidi boots were not noticeably hot. I saw other bikers out. I don’t buy it that riding without gear keeps them cooler. Certainly, their skin must be hot as the sun beats down on them. Without protection, the skin is a huge target not just for sunburn but…road rash in the event of an accident.

After parking the bike, I removed my gear and immediately I noticed my skin heating up and I wished for more riding. As long as I’m riding, I’m fine; it’s when I stop that I am aware of the heat.

BZ offered an opportunity to test drive a new camera lens, a 70-300 mm Nikkor zoom that seems to be a comfortable handheld lens. Still, I probably should have waited for a cooler day when the animals would surely have been more active and visible.

The return trip had me to thinking about some road challenges and situations that are beyond my control. I’ve written about this before but some of them bear repeating. I can be the best, most safety conscious rider in existence, aware of all the risk involved in riding a motorcycle, riding always with my head in the ride and still encounter road and people challenges that can end my life. For me, donning gear is a necessary part of my riding. Always wearing gear, always having to take the time to put it on reminds me to “get” my head and body prepared for the ride. Just as checking out the bike is a ritual that reminds me to stay abreast of what needs to be tightened, inflated, filled, etc. Jumping on the bike, pressing the starter button and taking off is way too easy. I’ve watched people do just that. Hop on, start ‘er up and take off while I’m still hooking up and snapping gear, positioning my helmet, pulling on my gloves (there are people who ride gloveless) and hiking up the pants so that my leg movement is not obstructed in any way. As I go through these rituals, my mind considers the risks I’m about to accept. Rather than make me fearful, it makes me confident that I’m doing all that I can to stay safe.

As I’m riding, I do a lot of self-talking. I see a driver and I say, “What is s/he planning to do, does s/he see me? As many other rides have said, “I ride as if I’m invisible.” I never assume anyone sees me. And never do I take for granted that someone will obey the traffic laws. Never do I ride through an intersection without covering the brakes and slowing down some. I trust only that someone will behave badly and I should ride prepared. Amazingly, doing so does not detract from the joy of motorcycling. After awhile, the scanning for dangers and hyper vigilance become second nature.

On the return trip, I saw what has unfortunately become normal bad driving behavior: people talking on cell phones, eating and/or drinking, anti-signal lane changers, lane straddlers, tailgaters and the ubiquitous left turner, who even when the turn is not completed, often sticks the car out so far in the turn lane that an accident could still happen. I try to stay away from such drivers. It requires an acute surveillance and solid ride skills that become mandatory to stay safe. A couple of days ago, I found myself next to a woman who had a newspaper folder over her steering wheel. I call that deadly multitasking!

Sunday, thought blistering, turned out to be a great day for Interstate riding because the breeze brushing through the mesh jacket was enough to keep me cool and focused. I enjoyed riding along at 55 mph--ok, I did more than 55mph but only to keep up with the flow of traffic, Officer.