Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Near Misses - Driving Defensively

I was getting some pulsation from the front brake on the Connie and thought it might be due to brake pad glazing. I'd gotten some grease on the front disc when I pulled the front end off to check the stem bearing and thought that might have contributed to the problem. Pulled the brake pads out and sanded them a bit, cleaned the pads and rotors with brake cleaner. I went out to bed the pads in  by doing some hard braking at 50-60 mph. Front brakes were working a lot better when I got done...which turned out to be good.

I passed a line of cars and was just about to enter an intersection with the green light when a van made a left turn in front of me from the far right lane (parking lane). There's a dedicated left turn lane at that light, plus two thru lanes and then the parking lane on the far right. I was caught off guard because it happened really fast and I wasn't anticipating that person to cut across 3 lanes to make a left. I reefed on the front brakes but also managed to lock up the rear - I think the skid started on the white cross walk/stop line paint. Once the rear wheel starts to slide it doesn't have much stopping power and the bike will start to fishtail as you try to steer. Get enough sideways motion and you'll either lowside, or let off the rear and as the bike straightens up - highside.

Just scraped by the van. My main goal was to reduce the force of impact if that happened (and steer left to avoid the impact). I was mostly curious who was driving the van. It was a young kid - he felt really bad, motorcycle rider himself and just didn't see me. I think he was late for something at the Community College and had been looking at a map or something and saw the line of cars a 1/2 block or so behind me and figured he could zip across the intersection no problem.

Reminded me once again how important it is to drive defensively, scan ahead for possible hazards, practice quick stops/swerves, concentrate on using the front brake and staged/progressive braking.

That's the third near miss I've had in the last several years. One where a guy on a cell phone ran a red light and the other when two girls stopped their car in the road on a blind spot on a curve in Mt. Rainier National Park. They were looking at something...I locked up the rear wheel on the Sportster that time too. It's a really ? sinking feeling to feel a bike start to fishtail - because you can't tell right away how bad it will get.

There are two theories on what to do if you lock up you rear wheel - one is to keep it locked up which may mean you will put the bike down but at least on a low side rather than going up and over. I think keeping the rear wheel in a skid is a bad idea unless the bike is moving in a straight line when the skid starts...and even then it doesn't make sense to me because of the decreased braking action of a skidding tire. The other is to keep your eyes focused where you want the bike to go, let the rear wheel skid if it starts and release the rear brake - assuming the front and rear wheels aren't too far out of line - if they are the natural tendency of the wheels to line up once the rear starts spinning again, may cause the bike to snap up and over and for you to go over the top.

Ideally you don't lock up either wheel and don't get into situations where you have to do emergency stops.

From HowStuffWorks "Motorcycle Riding" -

"Both brakes should be used at the same time, although the front brakes are more powerful and will typically provide 70 to 90 percent of the total braking force. New riders often fear using the front brake, but it should be applied every time a motorcycle is slowed or stopped. Many accidents are caused by riders braking incorrectly. According to the California Highway patrol, locking up the rear brakes is a factor in the majority of motorcycle crashes."

Motorcycle Braking: 15 Questions and Answers - webBikeWorld

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why Ride?

No particular destination in mind other than the road.

Riding gives me an opportunity to focus, feel the air, the temperature changes, the road and smell the flowers/exhaust fumes/trees/rivers/moss/hay/cabbage etc.

I like waving at other people riding motorcycles and the feeling that we are both sort of getting away with having some extra fun while everyone else is inside their cars.

I like the challenge of managing risk, driving defensively, being alert. I like doing motorcycle maintenance - learning about how things work, how to fix them. I like reading about riding techniques and other peoples motorcycle journeys. I like to try and improve my own riding techniques.

The feeling of riding a motorcycle has some things in common with skiing, riding a bicycle or in a boat.    I like the sense of acceleration/deceleration, leaning into curves, shifting your weight, going slow or fast - but most of all not having anything between you and the environment. Keeping focused on the road to look for traffic, people, animals, road hazards, cars ahead/beside forces you to not think about other things - very good therapy. On long trips you can start to get inside your own head but there's always something that breaks you out of that so you can't spend much time worrying or thinking about what might have happened or might happen.

There's something very appealing about being on two-wheels. It brings you back to the first time you had some independence - maybe when you were 3 or 4 and first learned to ride a bicycle. That first bicycle expanded your boundaries and that's what a motorcycle can do as well.

I could be happy and am happy just riding. I'm really glad I have a chance to try motorcycling again after a long break when I last rode in my twenties. I've managed to ride about 36K miles in the last couple of years. It hasn't gotten old.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Trip Report

It's that time of year when school is starting and the kids have to write a report about what they did last summer. Here's my trip report for my mini-vacation/2000 mile 5.5 day motorcycle ride last week to Crater Lake National Park, Mt Lassen National Park and California Highway 1 north of San Francisco.


Day 1 Sunday - I had some other commitments on Saturday so I ended up packing and leaving Sunday around noonish. My goal for day 1 was to ride to the Sisters City Park and camp overnight. I-5 was uneventful except for being hot and slow around Portland to Salem. There's sections of I-5 through Oregon that are two lanes in each direction. You have to practice patience when you get someone who wants to practice formation driving, or drive just at or below the speed limit in the left lane - plus the occasional semi race where one eighteen wheeler is passing another with a closing speed of several miles per hour.

I headed east at Salem onto highway 22 to go over North Santiam Pass. The more interesting route to Sisters from a motorcycling perspective is to head east from Eugene but I'd ridden that way last year and only had the afternoon to get to Sisters City Park and set up my tent.

Fire West of Sisters Oregon by Jack Crossen
There was a pretty impressive forest fire west of Sisters around the Hoodoo Ski Area. Lots of fire fighting equipment moving up and down the highway and a firefighter campsite set up a little outside of Sisters.

The campground in Sisters is a good deal. Nice ground for putting up a tent and within easy walking distance of downtown. It's pretty quiet and a creek runs through it as well - so for 12 dollars a night it's a pretty good camping bargain. Not sure what it would be like finding a place in the peak times of summer but I imagine if you showed up early in the day you could claim a spot.


Day 2 Monday - My goal on Monday was to ride to, and around, Crater Lake National Park and then continue south to get fairly close to Lassen National Park for the next day's ride. Sisters to Crater Lake is only about 130 miles so it's a pretty short jaunt. Crater Lake was pretty awesome.
Crater Lake by Jack Crossen
The only thing that bothered me a tiny bit was the park employee taking money to enter the park said "good luck" to me as I pulled away. Come on buddy you don't say "good luck" to someone riding a motorcycle - maybe "ride safe" or "keep the shiny side up" or "have a nice trip", but good luck? If I had to depend on my luck to ride I shouldn't be on a motorcycle or any vehicle for that matter.

I spent a few hours at Crater Lake riding around the rim (on the road) and then headed south on 97 to Weed, California where I caught I-5 for a short trip to get onto highway 89 south to Lassen. My stop for the night was the Hat Creek Campground. That place looked pretty good from the internet because it had showers and wifi but I wished I would of stayed at one of the national forest campgrounds nearby. The rate for a tent site was $30.80. My main reason for staying there was so I could take a shower. The national forest service campground would have been 16 bucks, so I ended up paying 14 bucks for a shower and what ended up being almost no sleep. The people at the desk were real nice and told me they gave me the "best" campsite in a private spot by the creek. Sounds good so far.

Once I drove in, the campground had a weird vibe to it - quite a few people who appeared to be permanent residents living in dilapidated RV's/vans of one sort or another, wandering about in the dust, staring at me as I entered their domain. I couldn't keep myself from imagining that if there is ever a zombie invasion in the U.S. it may very well originate in that campground.

One of them who seemed to have some official power offered to lead me to my campsite on his four wheeler - nice guy but I couldn't hardly see because of the dust he was kicking up. The wifi didn't work in the campground - it may have been accessible in the main office but not where I was staying. When I checked in I asked the check-in ladies if there was a password and they told me you just make up your own password. I think they meant it wasn't password protected but whatever.

I thought it was sort of odd that the check-in lady asked me to not give the shower combination to anyone else..? Who? The tent site was covered in a layer of crushed (sharp) gravel - not the best. It was still fairly dusty even with the attempt to make a bed of gravel. I'm wandering around looking for the shower and some nice hispanic guy sees I have a towel and says "you looking for a shower? It's right over there - the combination is 1002" Oh okay thanks.

The picnic table at my campsite was really dirty even by campground standards, it looked like someone had been working on an engine or something with a fair amount of oily greasy parts to lay out and the picnic table made a convenient work bench.

The real kicker was that I've camped beside roads before and had to deal with the noise, in this spot I felt like I was camping on the road. Yes my campsite was beside the creek which was also beside a highway used by logging trucks all night coming down a grade and using their engine braking techniques to slow down and make a heck of a lot of noise. Ear plugs helped some but the headlights shining in my tent and wondering if the sharp gravel was going to puncture my Thermarest pad or me kept me from getting much sleep at all.


Day 3 Tuesday - I was up before the sun and headed off bright and early. It was a nice ride. Hardly any traffic at this time of year. On one isolated stretch of road I saw a guy walking and pulling a small wagon loaded with what might of been camping gear and food. I wish I would have stopped to see what the story was but I wanted to get to Lassen. Later in the trip along the coast I saw a younger guy riding a skateboard in a fairly remote area with a backpack on his back, looking like he was on an extended trip...people in the U.S. really like to get out on the road.

I think I was one of the first people at the entrance to Lassen National Park that morning because the ranger was just putting up the flag. It's 5 dollars to ride a motorcycle into Lassen (same for Crater Lake) so that's a benefit since it's twice that or more for a car.
Road in The Distance by Jack Crossen
Lassen National Park is a good place to ride - the roads are clean/smooth and there are some fun curves. There's enough to see that it's interesting and not at all like Yellowstone in the busy season with the huge traffic jams when someone stops to look at a moose/buffalo/bear.

This is a picture near the geothermal area in Lassen called the Sulphur Works where you can see the road in the distance - it's pretty and has some twists and turns to keep things interesting. The geothermal stuff isn't anywhere near as impressive as Yellowstone but it's interesting and has a real strong sulphur smell. The boiling mud in the picture below looked like it was being pumped by an aerator in a man-made fountain it was bubbling so perfectly.

Boiling Mud - Lassen by Jack Crossen

In the afternoon I headed out of Lassen heading west to Red Bluff and I-5 again. I road south on I-5 to Williams California where I headed west again on 20 to Clear Lake. I camped at the Clear Lake State Park on the south side of the lake. It was great compared to the place I stayed the night before and it had showers that take quarters. Lots of squirrels and crickets to keep me company, no logging trucks or shining headlights at night. One of the other nice things is that the park employee suggested I pick a campsite and then pay. I was tired from not getting much sleep the night before so I went to bed early.


Day 4 Wednesday - The area west of Clear Lake is nice - lots of vineyards with the harvest in swing. It took me a little while to figure out the main road but I got to see quite a bit of nice grape country. This part of the trip took me to one of the most "interesting" roads of this trip - highway 175 from Kellseyville to Hopland Ca. I hadn't planned on that route but I didn't want to hit traffic in Santa Rosa so I decided to get onto 101 by that road. Highway 175 is also called the Hopland Grade. It is steep and really curvy. I saw a few Mini-Coopers on the road which looked fun. The curves are so tightly packed together that I had the feeling of slalom skiing rather than riding a motorcycle. The road is narrow and I found out later from a barista at Starbucks that it is the site of not too few accidents where someone crosses over the centerline or goes off the edge. It was a pretty good workout.

Bodega California V by Jack Crossen
From Hopland I headed south on 101 to Santa Rosa and then west on 12 to Bodega Bay. This turned out to be a long (fun) day. Bodega is a cool little town - especially the week after the Labor Day crowds have gone home. The school there was in Alfred Hitchcock's movie The Birds. It's got a surf shop, a cool market/cafe and a strange looking ramshackle casino (which I later read is not a casino but rather a pretty cool bar that serves good food). Now that I know that's not a casino it doesn't seem so strange that it would be in such a modest building. Looking at it from the outside I thought it must be one of the poorest casinos I'd ever seen. Bodega is about 60 miles north of San Francisco but it seemed like a world away from the city on this particular Wednesday.

Pacific Coast Highway by Jack Crossen
I had a 3 seaweed salad made with hiyashi, wakame and hijiki seaweed for lunch (figured I should eat some local food and I was real close to the ocean) in Bodega and then headed north on Highway 1. The section of Highway 1 north of Bodega is beautiful and a good road for riding with it's twisty bits.

My destination for this night would be MacKerricher State Park a few miles north of Fort Bragg. This was the nicest campground I stayed in. They had showers, a pretty beach, seals and a gray whale skeleton. Some critter tried to take my bike or maybe the partially eaten Odwalla bar in the tank bag but all I saw after the fact was his paw print on the seat the next morning.

MacKerricher State Park X by Jack Crossen

Seals VI by Jack Crossen

Whale Skeleton by Jack Crossen

Lucky I Didn't Leave the Keys in It by Jack Crossen

Some Critter Tried to Take My Bike by Jack Crossen


Day 5 Thursday - Up bright and early and on the road north out of MacKerricher State Park. Lots of natural beauty and good riding on CA-1. I like the photo with the fog and the stand of stately redwoods.

North of Elk on PCH 1 Again by Jack Crossen

California Redwoods by Jack Crossen

There's lots of towns that seem to have a population of 492 (or so) people on highway 1. They are all the sorts of places that look interesting but I only had a week so I couldn't stop at every one. I did stop at Elk which had this funny sign.

Elk California III by Jack Crossen

Did I mention I saw a lot of Naked Ladies alongside the road?

You see them in the most unlikely places - all alone in some remote dried up grassy areas, bunched together in random spots beside the road or sometimes like these lined up along a fence.

Naked Ladies II by Jack Crossen

The lady (not naked) in the store in Elk gave me the scoop on these pretty pink flowers. They were grown commercially at one time in some areas along the coast. They bloom twice a year. They are a type of lily known as naked ladies because they drop all their leaves and then the pretty pink flowers show up. Apparently squirrels pick up the bulbs and move around with them in their mouths and then decide they aren't good to eat so they spit them out some time later where they grow in odd random spots beside the road. They have a fragrance which people find pleasing, but apparently not deer so that keeps them from being eaten. I'm kind of wondering if part of the reason you see them beside the road by themselves is the bulbs fell off a truck at some time...but I like the idea of squirrels planting them so I'll stick with that story.

I was planning on camping near Florence Oregon on Thursday night but by the time I got there it was getting a little late and the state campground seemed like a hassle. They wanted you to pay for two nights and it was self serve and people were dallying around, so I headed to the Park Motel in Florence where I've stayed before during a torrential rain storm on my way up the coast in February 2010. It's the quintessential Mom and Pop motel - friendly, clean and relatively inexpensive. The rooms have a fridge and microwave and that knotty pine paneling that always reminds me of being on vacation. They encourage you to park your motorcycle right at your front door and on this particular morning the owner gave me a towel to dry my bike off.


Day 6 Friday - Took a leisurely ride west from Florence to Eugene. That's a nice road too.
Between Florence and Eugene Oregon by Jack Crossen
It follows the Siuslaw River which was filled with salmon fishers in boats. There's a cool little stop in the road somewhere along the way too for coffee and snacks.

After my leisurely ride to Eugene and looking around the city for awhile I headed back north on I-5 for home. If I had the trip to do over again I'd plan to not come into Seattle on a Friday afternoon. Traffic was terrible and added an hour or two to the trip.

All in all a really great trip though. I'm glad I got to see Crater Lake, Lassen, and ride CA-1 north of Bodega. I wanted to ride from Crescent City California to Grants Pass Oregon but it was so hot in Grants Pass that day I decided to stick to the coast. I've heard that's a good motorcycle road...also read that the road west out of Red Bluff to the coast may be the best motorcycle road in California so there's always the next trip.

I posted the pictures I took on this trip at Crater Lake, Lassen and Cali Hwy 1 - a set on Flickr

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Mountain Loop Highway

I took my police bike out for a ride Sunday around the mountain loop highway - Everett to Granite Falls around the loop to Darrington and back to Arlington and home. It was dusty on the 13 miles of gravel because there were a few other cars/trucks in front of me or going the other direction - but a good day for a ride.

View Mountain Loop Highway in a larger map

Sunday, September 04, 2011

City Park - Sisters Oregon

I'm staying here tonight. Pretty good deal for 12 bucks.

I've got my Jetboil, Pete's French Roast, coffee maker, noodles, textured vegetable protein, oatmeal and Odwalla bars - so I'm all set. Pretty much just have to buy gas, pay for camping and an occasional espresso this week.

Fire West of Sisters

Big smoke plumes from the forest fire near Hoodoo Ski area, Big Lake and Shadow Lake - west of Sisters Oregon

Filling in the Blanks Ride

There's three places I've been close to in Oregon and California and wanted to check out but for one reason or another (time, weather, other plans) wasn't able to -

Crater Lake National Park
Mount Lassen National Park
California Highway One North of San Francisco

I'm taking this week off to travel down that way. It's about a 2000 miles trip total. I plan to camp as much as possible. I can't think of anything more fun than riding a motorcycle, seeing some beautiful parts of the U.S. and camping out. I should probably stop writing and start packing so I can get going.

View Sisters, Crater Lake, Lassen, Highway 1 in a larger map