Women’s Freedom Ride 2018

Women’s Freedom Ride, 2018, Part 1

I was only able to participate for a few days in this year’s Women’s Freedom Ride (WFR), but it was a wonderful experience. Last year’s ride transformed me from a timid beginner rider to an experienced, confident rider.

I was able to ride to Garden City, Kansas on Tuesday to meet up with the WFR coming in from Colorado. I was so excited to get started that I got up at 2am, took care of my kittens, packed my stuff and put my bike in gear at 5:30 am. It was a cool morning at 60 degrees, so I had to wear a heavy leather jacket and gloves.

I headed west on Interstate 80 and set my cruise control at 78 mph, so as not to meet Nebraska Trooper Friendly. I’d filled the tank the day before and can generally ride 150 miles before stopping for gas. The time went quickly, as it was a beautiful morning to travel. There were a LOT of deer carcasses on the road and I counted on the Goddess of Safe Biking to protect me and she did a great job. I never saw any live animals on the roadway and was able to safely dodge those on the road who weren’t. Hitting a possum in the road can put a bike down, it’s not the same as in a car.

I was only underway about an hour when I saw “Nebraska Mountains” on the horizon. We don’t have anything close to mountains, but we have serious threatening weather fronts with dark clouds that certainly look like mountains. As this front approached like the giant alien space craft from a sci-fi movie, I could see that the impending darkness went all the way to the ground. Oh, boy, a serious frog strangler rain storm approaches. After all my past experiences, rain doesn’t intimidate me. Hail does, but not rain.

The best way to deal with rain is to make it go away and remain dry. That’s done by stopping at a rest stop and putting on your rain suit. You never stop on the side of the road, that’s a good way to get killed and you never wait until it’s raining to do so, either. It takes a good 5 minutes, possibly 10, to put on all your rain gear. By then, you’d be soaked to the skin and the rain suit would keep you wet. I have pants, jacket (brilliant florescent pink for visibility), boots and waterproof gloves. So, I lay on the ground and wrestle the pants up over my huge motorcycle boots and get ready to rumble, as Michael Buffer would say. I look up at the clouds and say, “You want a piece of me?”. Bring it on, Barbie.

It worked like a charm. The huge front enveloped me like the blob. There was no rain, just darkness. I rode on. It circled around me, trying to intimidate me, but never actually produced any water. As I rode, it seemed to lose it’s interest in me and finally just left me alone.

I stopped for gas, used the rest room, drank a bottle of water and changed to lighter clothing. Once again, I wrestled around on the ground to remove the rain suit, then rolled it up and put it back in the saddle bag.

The clouds blew away and the sun kissed my bike, which was still sparkling clean. Good thing, as I always tell people it won’t start if it’s dirty. She loves to run, so now we leave the Interstate and take off to the south on 2-lane asphalt. I’d put the address of that night’s motel into my bike’s navigation system and she did a great job of guiding my travels.

I was moving into Western Kansas, wheat country. It’s amazing how flat these high plains are. Through the “miracle” of genetic engineering, wheat today is nothing like our parent and grand parents grew. The song describes “amber waves of grain” and I remember seeing those waves in the wind just like waves moving on the ocean. Not any more. Genetics changed the wheat to increase the yield by adding more grains to the stalk. The problem was that the stalk couldn’t hold the added weight and it fell over easily, ruining the crop. No problem, we’ll just shorten the stalk. Boy, did they ever.

The wheat was so short that I had trouble telling if it was really wheat or just brown grass. This is harvest time for wheat. The stalks were only about a foot tall. I wondered if they needed to build new combines to harvest this short stuff. Even in the fairly windy conditions, there were no waves, just solid, unmoving brown crops. We may have to change the song. At least we still have purple mountain majesties.

Next in Part 2. Finding gas can be a real challenge in the vast prairie of Western Kansas.

Biker adventure in OK City 2018

ADAS is “Advanced Driver Assistance Systems”, the new technology to keep drivers safe. This is the collision avoidance system, lane departure warning and so on. You get it. It pays attention so you don’t have to.

It doesn’t have a nose. (?)   Yes, a nose. This is a serious safety system when riding a motorcycle.

 

I’m in the center lane of 3 lanes of dense traffic moving through Oklahoma City. Traffic is heavy and I’m on my motorcycle, feeling a little vulnerable. I smelled something hot. It’s a hot day and we’re in the city, so what?

 

It’s a stronger smell now, burning rubber. I shook the handlebars of my bike. I’ve had a flat tire at 75 mph before, so I knew how a bike reacts when that happens. My bike is apparently fine so far.

 

I’ve also witnessed a number of high speed blowouts, which scatter hazardous rubber and steel chunks like a grenade. Each chunk of rubber can be fist sized or larger and have razor sharp wires protruding in all directions. These will puncture a tire with ease and I don’t care to know what they’d do to skin.

 

It’s a hot day and I’ve seen evidence of blowouts dozens of times just in today’s travel. One of the drills learned in the Motorcycle Safety Course is steering around debris in the road. I’ve been doing a lot of that to avoid these little roadway land mines.

 

The burning rubber smell is pronounced now and my senses are at their peak. I know someone is about to blow a tire, I just don’t know who or where. I scan rapidly back and forth. I see smoke from the right rear of a Mercedes, in the left lane about 2 car lengths ahead of me.

 

I ease up on the throttle, to put a little distance between me and the Mercedes. The car doesn’t slow down and shows no reaction. A part of me wants to get beside them and signal them. Another part of me says they won’t understand or, worse yet, will think I mean to harm them. So I wait.  I can’t get too far back, traffic is dense and I don’t want to introduce other vehicles in front of me who might get tangled up and involve me. I also don’t want to get rear ended by a texting driver behind me.

 

Smoke is now pouring off the right rear, just like a NASCAR racer heading for the pits to change a tire. Amazingly, still no reaction. They’ve got to smell it. Does no one ever check their mirrors?  I see the rubber part of the wheel wobbling now. It won’t be long. Little rubber bits are now flaking off. I move over to the far right lane, the smoking car stays where it is in the far left lane. It hasn’t slowed down or anything. Geeze.

 

Now, the rubber is flailing and finally, the tire lets go. The entire tread, completely round and intact, slips off the wheel and heads directly to the right, straight for a semi tanker truck. Rolling like a hula hoop, it rolls right into the truck. I figure the truck will take it out. I was wrong. The tire slipped unharmed right under the truck, directly into my line of travel. It quickly crossed the right lane, bounced off the outside barrier and headed straight for me.

 

I’ve learned to stay cool under fire and my brain immediately went into all sorts of mathematical calculations regarding speed and direction to help me decide what to do. I hit the brakes and steered to the right edge of the road, right where the tire was. It was heading left, I was heading right. It had just exited my lane as we passed. Holy jeepers. I exhaled a sigh of relief.

 

This is another very important skill to learn, called “target fixation”. Most drivers will fix their gaze on the sudden obstacle in the road. The bike will go where you look, so if you look at an obstacle, you’ll run right into it. It’s important to look where you want to go. I wanted to go to the right side of the moving tire, so I fixated on the area behind the moving tire.

 

My sense of smell told me this was coming. That enabled me to see the whole thing unfold like it was in slow motion. Had I not been paying attention, I’d have impacted the tire. There is no current technology that would have advised me this was coming like my nose. A substantial amount of rider training gave me the rider skills to deal with the situation. Nose, training, experience, practice. Riding a motorcycle has made me a much better driver.

 

The Mercedes continued on like nothing had happened, riding on the metal wheel, like some chase scene out of COPS. I hit the gas and rode on.