BACK IN THE DAY
Where were we when I was so rudely interrupted? Oh yeah, we were approaching the railroad tracks south of Caledonia in the rain. Well, it wasn’t really raining hard, it was just spitting. Having crossed the tracks on the way up to Mike’s cottage made me an expert railroad track crosser - in my own mind at least. So, I approached the railroad tracks at the 45-degree angle at 100 kph without giving it another thought. Little did I know that my world was about to change dramatically!
As the front tire hit the first track, the bike leaped to the left and then righted itself – just in time for the front tire to hit the second track (or the rear tire hit the first track – who knew at this point?) and the whole series of slip, slide and then grab for traction, causing the bike to jump wildly while moving increasingly to the left long enough to put me in the oncoming lane!
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the worst of our problems – only because there was no oncoming traffic at that point – what worried me more was Mike on the back being cool. What that meant was that he was no longer holding on (if you remember in the last chapter, he had let go in order to look and feel cool) and at one point during the ordeal, I caught the sight of Mike’s leg about eye-high and swinging wildly! In retrospect, the only things that saved us (aside from the lack of oncoming vehicles) was the fact that the tires were brand new, and I had a death-grip on the bars (befitting my station as a new rider who was in over his head).
I managed to keep it together long enough to pull over at the side of the road (my side – not the wrong side) to attempt to figure out what just happened. Actually, if I’m truly honest, it was primarily the fact that I really needed some time to let my heart return to its designated spot in my chest and slow down from the 200 beats per minute to a more reasonable rate and to check my underwear for bricks. The first thing I did once I managed to bring the bike to a halt was to turn around and check to see if Mike was still there. Luckily, he was, since he was dressed in the uniform of the unwitting – a short-sleeved shirt, jeans and flip-flops – and don’t forget his helmet, black-taped to his head!
I could see by the look on his face that he wasn’t amused, and if I missed that, I could hear him yell (through gritted teeth – don’t forget the black tape) “What the f**k just happened? Since I had no idea myself, I stalled for time asking him what he had just said, and that he might want to repeat it slowly, so I could comprehend his question. After he repeated himself, I admitted that I wasn’t sure, but we should light up a smoke and try to figure it out. Between the two of us, we managed to ascertain that railroad tracks in the rain were substantially different than railroad tracks in the dry weather. This was just the first installment in my education about the differences between motorcycles and all the other vehicles that I had previously driven. It certainly wasn’t the last. We managed to make it back to Hamilton relatively unscathed, and we even stopped at the bike shop so that Mike could purchase a real motorcycle helmet before I dropped him off at home.
Considering that this was the middle of August, I just had time to purchase and have installed a handlebar fairing to cut down the wind blast on the highway, and to distance me even further from the cool guys riding Harleys or Triumphs. Looking back, my biggest difference was that even though I was a rider, my choices still made me look like a dork. Nonetheless, as it turned out, my choice of bike, size and accessories was ideal for the use that we were going to put it to! Beginner’s luck, I guess – I would make many more stupid decisions before I finally had to admit to myself that I really didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Unfortunately, that was about 10 years later – but that didn’t stop me from starting to teach people how to ride the next summer!
Before we jump forward that far, there are several lessons that Mike and I had to learn over the Winter – and we had to learn them the hard way. We started commuting to St. Catharines in September, and we rode (or at least I rode, since I had promised Mike that I wouldn’t let him pilot the machine because he hadn’t paid for it) all but 5 or 6 days in the winter when it snowed hard. Mike and I wore snowmobile suits and gloves to ward off the cold, and they came in very handy later – but that’s another story that we’ll save until the next column.
In the meantime, I mapped out a route to Brock that allowed me to introduce some really nice roads (i.e. hills and turns) to the end of our journey – setting us up with a shot of adrenalin to start our day at school. We would get off at 1st Street South which ultimately lead to a massive downhill stretch, just before turning in to a snake-like series of curves as it wound its way up the Niagara Escarpment past Lake Moodie and Lake Gibson. We would use the downhill section to easily gain speed so that as we crossed the little bridge at the bottom (just before the right-angle left turn!) we could get some air on a good day with no traffic in front of us – which was most days. I’m certain that even the slowest among us can see the problem that is likely going to occur, although I must have been slower than that, since it didn’t dawn on me until it happened. More on that topic next time…
Questions / comments, always welcome.
"The Old Timer"