Laying It Down

I am frequently asked, “Can you teach me how to Lay-My-Bike-Down?”

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As a motorcycle safety instructor, my first thought is, “WHY?”  My next thought goes to the social norm that suggests to consider it.  But, really?  Let’s go back to, ”WHY?”. When would this ever really be a better technique?

True, there are many o’ myth, many o’ opinion, and many o’ movie that suggest a Lay-The-Bike-Down technique is a practical approach. Some movies even show the rider and bike popping back up and riding safely away. Although AWESOME to watch, reality and facts show a very different story.

Since the late 70s, research has consistently shown that most motorcycle crashes are actually caused by the rider. How do we know this?  By investigating the crash and documenting evidence. This evidence consistently shows that the rider wasn’t able:

  • to brake effectively,
  • to swerve effectively,
  • or willing to make any avoidance decision, and rode directly into the hazard.  😦

The reality is that many riders lose control while trying to avoid a hazard. They panic and crash. Often crashing well before the threat!  (One I was just reviewing showed a +40’ skid and +50’ slide of bike, before hitting the car.)

So when I hear, “I had to Lay-The-Bike-Down,” facts prove that the rider is MASOCHISTICALLY saying, “I lost traction… and crashed my bike.”  (This, however, doesn’t sound so cool to friends and family.)

Let’s take a deeper look into this social norm:

1. It’s true that repetitive training with lots of practice (multiple times per week to maintain minimum proficiency), can help you learn ways to minimize injuries from a fall. Training can also help you learn strategies to avoid FALLING in the first place.

As an example, through Gymnastics, Parkour, Tumbling, or Marital Arts (such as Kung Fu, Judo, Ju-Jitsu, Aikido, Ninpo Taijutsu, Kenpo, Shorei Goju Ryu, Hapkido, Ukemi, Kempo, Jeet Kune Do, etc.) you can learn skills
such as:

  • 15 different Ukemi techniques (ways of falling) to dissipate harmful forces:
    • proper breakfalls and slap-fall landings
    • front-falls and shoulder rolls
  • general (core) strength and flexibility
  • and, the most important of all, the strategy of AWARENESS & AVOIDANCE!

2. Crash and fatality statistics continue to show that most riders have little time to “choose” to Lay-The-Bike-Down as a hazard avoidance technique.

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The two realities crash research reveals are:

  • the majority of crashes occur within 2-seconds or less of noticing a hazard
    (i.e. this doesn’t allow for awareness, evaluation, and reaction time to choose a technique to apply)
  • over-reaction via over-braking or unsuccessful swerving can cause an instant loss of traction and drop a bike very quickly
    (e.g. a panicked grab of front brake, slam of rear brake, or over-aggressive swerve compromises traction)

So, while trying to research this Lay-The-Bike-Down technique during an off-road course, I intentionally tried to do this…
It ain’t easy to do!  The brain says NO!  The body fights any effort to intentionally drop the bike.

But IF this is something you want to try, let’s take a look at how a rider would actually Lay-The-Bike-Down:

  • First, decide if it is something you really are willing and able to practice –on your own bike?
  • Second, what protective gear would you wear to practice continual drops of your bike?
  • Third, what method would you use to intentionally initiate a drop technique?
    • an overly aggressive “press” of your handlebar?
    • an overly aggressive “slam” of your rear brake pedal?
    • a panicked “grab” of your front brake?
    • a body/shoulder-throw to offset the balance of the bike?

As we know, a sudden loss of traction typically caused by a panicked reaction (i.e. unskilled over-use of controls) can quickly drop your bike.  We also know research shows that appropriate and safe(r) hazard avoidance techniques require both skill and time to apply.

So thinking this through, IF a rider has time to

  • perceive and evaluate a developing hazardous situation,
  • formulate a strategic response to consider variable options
  • and, then apply a hazard avoidance technique…

Critical thinking allows us to reason that if a rider intentionally Lays-The-Bike-Down, they have given up all hope. They have given up all traction. They are putting themselves and their bike into a sliding mess of vulnerability and danger. Isn’t it better to apply an effective avoidance technique (brake-to-a-stop or swerve) rather than Lay-The-Bike-Down?

Even slowing (as much as possible) could reduce the crash speed significantly.   Even if the rider can’t stop in time, but slows to a negligible speed via quick-stop application, hitting something upright at 5, 10, 15 mph is much safer than sliding into something at 30, 50, 65+.

Some argue that many martial arts and sports teach strategies and techniques for safe(r) falls. While true, one must be aware that a primary discipline taught is the strategy of awareness and avoidance. Prevention of putting yourself in a dangerous/hazardous situation is the easiest way to avoid. My martial arts training always taught me to be aware and always have an “escape”.  To quote one of my Sensei’s, “Avoidance by being aware of one’s environment is the first line of self-defense and self-preservation.”

Awareness and escapes are exactly the same for motorcycling. Riders must be aware of potentially hazardous situations to avoid or escape them. Just like martial arts, I promise that staying in control (mental and physical), being aware of hazardous situations, and maintaining traction to escape is a much better choice.

As an Instructor, instead of working with riders to learn how to Lay-The-Bike-Down, I train how to identify hazards early, evaluate a response to neutralize a threat, and control your panic instinct to use effective hazard avoidance techniques.

I invite you to consider a novel and innovative approach that can be applied to all street riding and hazard avoidance skill development. Think about professional motorcycle racers. Think about their abilities, awareness, and techniques. What do the best-of-the-best riders do to train to avoid crashing?  DIRT!

Yes, my suggestion to learn about traction, skidding or drifting of tires, navigating shifting surfaces, and developing hazard avoidance skills is to take an off-road (dirt) training class!  It may sound like an unusual approach for a street rider; however, it is absolutely true that dirt skills can help street riders be more stable, less reactive, and safe(r).  Off-road courses develop skills that can’t easily or safely be taught on pavement.

I challenge you to consider taking off-road/dirt training. I expect, like me, you will learn an amazing amount of control and response that can/will help you be a much better and safer street rider.

 

-KM

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Kyle McCarty

Kyle@PugetSoundSafety.com

Specialty Program Operations

MSF RiderCoach Trainer

+500,000 mile (on and off-road) rider of Honda ST1300A7, Valkyrie Interstate, and KLR705

The Choices We Make…

ErickaI’m a motorcycle rider; but I’m different from a lot of us.  I’m a motorcycle rider that carries with me a heavy story of my days before the bike, and how a singular moment in time has completely formed who I am as a motorcyclist.

I was 24 years old and living in California at the time.  I had very little cares in the world.  I was moving just blocks from Venice beach, working at a record label, and the sky felt like the limit.  I don’t know if you remember what it’s like to be in your early 20s.  You’re invincible.

You hear stories in the news of tragedy but you don’t really think twice of them because they’ll never touch your life.  I was in the middle of moving – an early Sunday morning – coming back from getting coffee so I could begin unpacking boxes in my new bungalow.  Literally 3 blocks from my house, I’m sitting at a stop light waiting to take a left.  Venice Blvd is as straight of a road as they come…you can see forever down the road.  I pulled my Honda Civic out to the middle of the intersection so I could take a left into my new neighborhood.  Gosh, I was just beaming.

I began to take a left…I honestly couldn’t have been going more than 5 miles an hour when I looked to my right and just proclaimed aloud the slowest and most agonizing “Oooooh fuuuuuuuck” of my entire life.  Time stands still in moments like this.  I had absolutely no idea where the motorcyclist came from, as every driver who gets in an accident with one says…because it’s true.  Biologically the eye doesn’t see very much and the brain tosses together multiple images to make sense of what is going on.  Motorcycles don’t take up very much space in the image and therefore often aren’t registered.  But I digress…back to the moment that time stood still.

I watched this motorcyclist approach my passenger side door head on and then proceed to buckle my car in half.  Airbags going off left and right I halt my car to a stop and get out running frantically at the motorcyclist who had just propelled over the roof of my car and then 30 feet away from it.  It wasn’t long before ambulances, cop cars, and firetrucks were lined up at the scene.  They peel you away from a scene pretty quickly when you’re an involved party.

All I really remember was approaching the man on the ground who was making this horrible gurgling noise through his helmet that will haunt me to this day.  I know nothing about motorcycles as this point so it doesn’t register in my head that he is in full gear and a full faced helmet.  This means nothing to me and so I don’t notice it.  I’m on some stranger’s phone, who is trying to comfort me as I scream in tears to my mother, thinking to myself “Holy fuck, this man is going to die”.  I have never felt anything resembling a level of fear as gripping as I felt it in that very moment in time.

Gear.  This is the side of motorcycling that motorcyclists make an individual choice on.  I never intended to get into motorcycling.  It was a force of nature that worked its way into my life when I moved to Seattle 5 years ago and just clicked.  Anyone who knows me from my days in California thinks I am bat shit crazy for getting into motorcycling after what I experienced.  I have my days that I feel that way too, but my sense of adventure has always been like a raging fire inside of me and it seems to grow the older I get.

So, the thing is, most motorcyclists will not consider anyone other than themselves when it comes to their choice in gear.  Your gear will serve a purpose and for a lot of people, there is an image that is trying to be obtained in the choice of gear made.  So, why should you consider anyone other than yourself, right?  I feel very differently.  I wear good gear all the time for 2 reasons: 1. I would like to be riding my motorcycle until I’m old and gray. 2. I went through an experience where the only reason that the man who I got into an accident with lived, was because of his choice of gear.

I got a call from the cops later that day to fill me in on the man’s condition.  This isn’t something they do all that often but I was so frantically concerned about him that they decided to call me.  I sat in my apartment all day in a cold sweat just sobbing, until I got the call.  The man survived, and the only bone he broke in his body was his left hand pinky.  Now I’m not saying that he probably didn’t have a long road to hoe when it came to rehabbing his body; but what I am saying is that his choice of gear saved both his life and mine.

Had the story resulted differently, I’d probably have moved back to Minnesota and into my parent’s basement where I would have become a shell of my existence and my only social interactions on a weekly basis would likely include speaking to a therapist about how a complete accident, one false move in my life, left a man dead.  Most people don’t consider that.

In hindsight, knowing what I know about motorcycles and braking, the accident could have been avoided… but most people don’t ever believe a moment in life like this is going to happen to them…and therefore there aren’t many of us that practice emergency stops on a regular basis.  So, when moments like this come up and we have to make quick choices on how to react, both parties don’t always make the best choices and that is what results in an accident. However, the choices that you make before you swing your leg over your bike, could be the very choices that save your life.

As a motorcycle rider, I’m ashamed to have this story under my belt.  But it’s there and I carry it with me every time I get on the bike.  I carry it with me every time I get behind the wheel of a car.  I buy helmets that are more expensive than I would like them to be, and I look like a dorky geared up version of the Michelin man when I head out on 3,000 mile solo trips.  I will never be one of those people who looks “cool” on a bike, and I don’t care.  I think it’s a lot cooler to be safe, and ride defensively, and consider that my choices do not only affect myself, but other people out on the road.

It’s Not You It’s Me

It's Not You, It's Me!

As the board chair of the Washington Motorcycle Safety Education Advisory Board I regularly talk to motorcyclists about motorcycle safety and education.  Outside of the industry and almost without fail the biggest rant you’ll hear when it comes to accident statistics, especially fatalities, is “those damn cagers”.  I’ve even heard people blame road conditions or weather.  What is rare is taking personal responsibility or saying that we, motorcyclists, are to blame for accidents.

The trouble is that when it comes to accidents, we actually are to blame… in Washington at least.  70 percent of fatalities in our state are motorcyclist caused*.  Excessive speed, riding while intoxicated, failure to navigate a corner- these top the list of how we are killing ourselves.  So yes, when it comes to how we’re dying, it’s not them, it’s us.

And while I’m certainly not glad we’re dying (let’s knock that off mkay?) I will say when given a choice between them killing us or us killing us I wouldn’t have it any other way.

WHAT???

I will never understand the desire of so many to blame others, the road, you name it.  ANYTHING not to take personal responsibility.  Here’s the thing, why do you want to give away your power?

When it’s my responsibility it also means I can do something to fix it.  My life is literally in my own hands.  I have the possibility to change the outcome.  If it’s the “damn cager”, the road, something outside of me then my life is in someone else’s hands.  More importantly, to make a change I need to change the behaviors of millions of people.  That’s a ludicrous amount of work and something I can assure you will NEVER happen.  If the fault lies with me then guess what?  I just need to change me.  That is TOTALLY doable.

“But, but, people cut me off all the time!” you say!  How many of those times were you going exactly the speed limit?  Really?  Exactly the speed limit?  You sure about that?

Let me share a little story.  Well most of it.

On the way to one of my board meetings I was heading over a pass, heading into the Yakima area.  There was a small RV waiting to turn right in a rural area.  I was going above the speed limit.  I’m not going to say exactly how much.  I was a decent amount away from the intersection but approaching fast because, well, as I mentioned, I wasn’t going the speed limit.  There was no one behind me and I was on a bike with very good brakes.  I had a feeling this person was going to turn in front of me… “damn cager”?

No, not at all.  There was NO WAY this person could have judged how fast I was going.  Frankly, when they turned there should have been plenty of time for them to clear the intersection in time.  It’s just that there wasn’t because I was going significantly faster than I should have been.  Was it a problem?  No, because I saw the whole thing coming and was prepared for what they might do.

I knew I was going faster than I was supposed to be, and that they might not be able to judge my speed.  I was doing so knowing my bike would be able to brake and stop easily.  I had a found an escape route should I need a place to go.  I was prepared should they do what they indeed decided to do.

I wasn’t pissed off.

They were completely in the right to do what they should have had plenty of time to do without cutting me off or causing any problems at all.  If there was anyone doing anything wrong it was me and I had the RESPONSIBILITY to deal with the ramifications of my choices, not blame them for being unable to gauge my rate of speed accurately.

Each time you have a close call or if you’ve had an accident, ask yourself what you could have done differently.  If you find that your only answer is to blame the other person ask again until you find that thing YOU could have done differently.  No, don’t share it with the opposing lawyer should you be in that situation!

But for yourself, learn something you can do to make yourself a better rider, one who is more aware of your surroundings, who has an out, who is more prepared for changing road conditions, something.  Your life depends on it.

Do you want your life to depend on those “damn cagers” or do you want as much power in your own hands as possible?

*Here are links to stats on what is killing motorcyclists.  If you want to stay up to date, get the very latest stats, join a meeting to make your voice heard, and learn more, join the Washington Motorcycle Safety Education Advisory Board Listserv here to get the latest Advisory Board and Motorcycle Safety Program updates and information by email.

http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/motorcycles/fatalityfacts/motorcycles

http://www.dol.wa.gov/driverslicense/docs/motoFatalities6-2013.pdf

http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/CATS/listpublications.aspx?Id=A&ShowBy=DocType

http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/812148.pdf

http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/NR/rdonlyres/5FC5452D-8217-4F20-B2A9-080593625C99/0/TargetZeroPlan.pdf

Join Us! Death Valley Desert Ride

BDR

So there is this cool thing at this unbelievably awesome place with spectacular gravel roads and these amazing people…. And we think you should attend!!

Here is a link to the event page with all the details.

Wayne will be attending, and will be riding down a route that will be chosen as we get closer to the date – it will obviously be weather dependent. With any luck and the weather Gods willing, we might be able to roll down through the High Desert of OR and NV, and then perhaps meander back up via a circuitous route potentially up the coast for a few hundred of the best, twisty miles. By the most direct route, it is just a shade over 1,000 miles from South Sound Motorcycles. Wayne is planning 2-3 travel days each direction.
He is already signed up and has booked a room, but spots are going fast.

Interested in attending, or at least getting more info? Call or email Wayne to discuss, and he will light a fire under you!!

Let’s do this thing!!!

Wayne Elston
Sales
South Sound Motorcycles
253-922-2004

or wayne (at) southsoundmotorcycles.com

Training is Everything!

The Washington Motorcycle Safety Program is proud to announce the release of a powerful new public safety video, Training is Everything. This seven minute video, filled with stunning cinematography and powerful interviews, presents a compelling case for all riders to sign up for initial and continued motorcycle training.

The video features motorcycle riders, an elite Army Apache helicopter pilot, champion hydroplane racer Chip Hanauer, rugby players from Seattle Slam, and motorcycle safety specialists. Within it they discuss the importance of training and how the physical and mental skills required to fly combat helicopters, race hydroplanes, and even compete in rugby compare to those required to ride motorcycles.  Pilots, race drivers, and athletes train constantly to be on their game. By doing the same, riders—whether novices or experienced, year-round riders or summer cruisers—can both ride more safely and get more out of themselves and their bikes.

Accompanying the full-length version of the video are two 30-second public service announcements to use as further tools to speak to riders about the main messages of the film—that a large percentage of rider fatalities are, in fact, caused by the riders themselves. By training for the physical and mental art that is motorcycling, riders can get the most from their ride, get home safely, and then go ride more.

Training is Everything, filmed by Twisted Scholar, was made possible through a grant from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. Training is everything when you fly, when you race, and when you compete, and training is everything when you ride.

How do you train?

Motorbike Road Trip: Making it Happen – As a Solo Female

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“Normal people don’t go camping with their motorcycles,” a boy said very seriously to another kid as they walked past me at the campground.  I was surprised he did not mention anything about me being a female.  I was doing my last trial run with all of my gear to note any needed adjustments before my big, three-week solo motorbike road trip.

Non-“normal” me did not grow up on dirt bikes or around motorcycles.  I started riding two years prior to my road trip.  And really the concept five years before that was that it would be cool to do a motorbike road trip through Asia; making it actually happen was not something I had seriously considered.

Fast forwarding to now, I have my motorcycle license, and a used BMW 650GS that came with panniers and everything.  But despite having these, or especially because of having these, I was intimidated.  The “motorbike” part of the “motorbike road trip” idea was looking doubtful; I was terrified of the combination of my hesitant abilities, traffic on the road, the size and weight of my motorcycle.

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I am only 105 pounds, which means my motorcycle weighs four times the amount I do.  Thankfully the “road trip” part was a non-issue, I had pushed through intimidations related to that a few years ago during my seven-week solo road trip in my small SUV.  But back then I was quite nervous about camping solo in places wilderness enough to have no cell phone reception.

I did a trial run then too, sleeping in an unstructured, dispersed camping area in my vehicle night one, in a tent night two, and confirmed I could manage and therefore handle a solo road trip.  Plus I had my satellite messenger device so people knew I was alive, or if I was in trouble.  By the end of that long road trip I was so comfortable solo camping that I slept the second to last night in my hammock, and the last night on the ground under the stars.

I have learned that by trying things out in small ways to build up to the bigger goal, it is possible to gain the knowledge needed, become adept, and become more comfortable with things that initially are intimidating.  I think I have an idealistic view of humanity and was less concerned for my womanly safety from human predators than others were, but then and since, despite my placing myself in some admittedly sketchy situations, I have never had any problems, and have only found that people, especially males, become protective and keep an eye out for me, despite being complete strangers.

Overcoming intimidation, at least for me, takes stubbornness and practice.  To do an extended motorcycle road trip safely and successfully, I felt that I had to become competent and comfortable at a number of things.

I had to learn how to pick up the bike on my own if it tipped over.  I needed to be unabashed about asking for aid from strangers.  I had to experience riding through hairpin turns, in the rain, in relentless crosswind, in the dark, with others, and by myself.  I had to know how much my butt could handle riding in a day, at a time, in terms of both hours and distance.  I had to learn how to handle my big adventure motorcycle off-road, how to make tighter u-turns, how to (mostly) hold a line, how to start a bike up a steep hill, how to turn around on a steep hill (at least in concept), and all of these when awkward material and slopes are under the tires, because one just never knows when that might be the situation; so to learn and practice these details, I participated in a RawHyde class and trip.

I had to figure out how to reduce helmet turbulence.  I had to find out my capacity and stamina, both physically and mentally, because I might need to make serious decisions or need to use my skinny strength under stress and by myself.  I had to get comfortable with the basics of motorcycle parts, functions and troubleshooting in case something happened out in the field, so I took the Puget Sound Safety motorcycle maintenance course.  I had to determine innovations and alterations to make to my gear and motorcycle and set-up make the most logical, efficient and comfortable ride possible (backpackers have it down, and are my first go-to for food and gear advice).

I had to figure out how to pack things to make everything fit.  These various things required observation, practice, and lots of questions.  Lots.  I am sure any of the folks working at South Sound Motorcycles can attest to my unending questions (and their unending patience and insight).  This also took experience, and persistence, frustration, and bruises.

I think my one-on-one coach at the off-road RawHyde class picked up my motorcycle by himself (he wanted me to conserve my energy for learning) a minimum of fifty times in one day.  Which meant I fell no less than fifty times that day, and also got up and back on the motorcycle no less than fifty times, knowing my odds were that I would be sprawled down in the dirt again soon next to my rented 700GS.  By the time of the class trip a couple of days later, I only fell in a couple of situations in the “real world” off-road riding.  I gained skills and confidence.  I had to know I was mostly capable of handling a general array of potential events, before taking off on my long road trip.  This meant practice with stubbornness mixed in.

It became time for my motorbike road trip.  Up from Seattle into British Columbia, spending nearly a week in the Canadian Rockies, then down through Watertown Lakes National Park, winding through the Beartooth Mountains, then across and through the Northern Cascades.  I found road trip by motorbike to be awesome, a bit more stressful than I anticipated, not exactly romantic, and more awe-inspiring and with feelings of accomplishment in ways not experienced when doing a road trip by car.

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I handled the situation where my bear-proof canister with all of my carefully selected food was (temporarily) stolen a couple of days before my mountaineering class; I managed three hours of mid-20 mile per hour crosswinds with gusts in the mid-30 mile per hour range; I had a beautiful accidental moment doing single track gravel at a campsite at sunset (this trip I opted to not do intentional off-road by myself).  I probably had more unique interactions with people on the road during this trip because of my mode of transportation.

Next time – I am already planning a next time – I am seriously considering bringing my banjo, because it fits on the motorcycle, and would not that twang be a great day’s end at camp?  I can imagine that little boy saying, “Normal people don’t go camping with their motorcycles, and they never bring a banjo on their motorcycle.”

The final count: 23 days, 4238.9 miles, 2 countries, 5 states/provinces.  I ended the trip thinking: I can do anything.  Even that motorbike road trip through Asia I dreamt up several years ago.  If a skinny, barely over 100 pounds woman riding a comparatively heavy motorcycle was successful on a solo motorbike road trip and feels like anything is possible and doable – then that must be true for everyone.  We just need to be stubborn enough to make it happen.

 

-Marcia A. McGuire

Other pieces by Marcia:

View Through the Motorcycle Helmet: Short slide show video of road trip photos 

Motorcycle Diaries Blog Link

Camping Solo

Many years ago I was dating a guy with a camper van.  Those things are awesome.  Want to go camping?  No need to plan, just toss everything into the van and go.  Don’t even look at the weather, just bring whatever you might need.  And we did, more weekends than not.  No plan, no idea where we wanted to go, just go!

When we broke up I was bound and determined not to let camping become something I used to do.  But I also knew my friends were often flakes, or at least had lives that made planning group things hard.  How the heck was I going to go camping if I didn’t have people to go with?

My only foray into camping solo up to this point had been one REALLY creepy night in the back of my old Subaru back in High School on a night with no moon.  I’d pulled into a camp spot I’d never been to at night.  No one was there and it was pitch black.  I don’t think I slept at all that night.  I was scared to death.  The idea of camping alone again wasn’t something that sounded especially exciting.  It sounded utterly terrifying.

I should say right now that, for whatever reason, I’m far more scared of animals than people.  Going to the bathroom in the middle of the night is always an exercise in telling myself that I will not be eaten by a cougar.  Yes, I know the odds are ridiculously low… but my sleepy brain isn’t particularly rational.  Oddly I’m not all that worried when I’m in my tent (because nylon is safe?!?), but the walk from the outhouse to the tent?  Nothing but hungry cougars hell bent on devouring me.

So how do I rectify my desire to camp with my fear of camping?  Baby steps.

Earlier that year I’d purchased a Honda Element… in theory a perfect vehicle for camping- In my opinion it’s not really but that’s another story for another time.  OK, I’ll start by camping in it.  I can lock myself in the vehicle.  And since I’m mostly afraid of animals I’ll camp around other people.  Most of them have HORRIBLE food storage habits so I’ll just do better than they do.  Since I’m in my vehicle I should be able to get away while the bear or other animal ravages their campsite.   Yes, I know this is a horrible thought, but I’m not suggesting I’m being particularly reasonable or rational at this point.  I’m really just trying to get past my fears by any means necessary.

So, I began camping alone by going to campsites with other people and locking myself in the vehicle at night.  I made sure I knew where the camp host was.  I camped close ish to the bathroom since I knew I’d be heading there at night.  And I locked myself in my car every time I got back in.

Eventually after numerous solo camping excursions, I’d forget to lock the doors when I’d get back into my vehicle- and eventually I didn’t freak out about that.  It became more normal not to worry… after all I was spending the day outside of the vehicle in many of these spaces so I was already comfortable with the space.  I’d often have a camp fire in the evenings too so night time had become more comfortable as well.

Finally a day came when I wanted to camp solo on my motorcycle.  Yikes, no locking yourself in to a motorcycle!  But by this time I was already ok with the idea of being outside… at least in theory.

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Off I went to the Packwood area which, during the summer months, is fairly busy and full of campers.  Full of campers means full of families, older couples, you name it.  Mostly pretty normal folks.  The first night I camped in a pay campground, not too far from the camp host, not too far from the bathroom.  I stuck to my plan.  And it worked fine.  The only issue was that I was right next to a camp site full of drunk gals who spent all night hooting and hollering.  Outside of the vehicle there’s no respite from your loud neighbor.  I packed up the next day and went looking for a better spot.

And a better spot I found… a free campsite, right on the river.  BUT, and this is a big one, no camp host, and NO other campers.  I am the only food for my late night cougar attack.  Can I do this?  I psyched myself up and decided to set up camp.

Not more than a minute into setting up camp a truck with a camper pulls in.  A gentleman with two tiny blond boys pulls in.  “Do you mind if we camp here?”  The camp site has 7 spots- it’s hardly my own and yet this guy has the decency to ask since I’m alone and he doesn’t want to freak me out.  “Sure!” I say, thinking to myself “Oh thank God I’m not going to be alone here all night!!”  He sets up his trailer a few spots down from mine and later comes down just to check to see if I can hear his generator… again, trying not to intrude.

Later, he and his boys bring me firewood while mom makes dinner back at the camp.  They had seen me out in the woods hunting down firewood.  I should tell you this happens all the time.  People bring me firewood all the time.  My friend Laura, mentioned in my write up about riding alone, has couples bring her food.  There are benefits to being a single female camping on a bike.

Up until quite recently all of my motorcycle camping trips have been in campgrounds with other people.  Always couples or families.  Never anyone that seemed sketchy at all.  But finally the night came where I had to spend a night completely alone at a campground.

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It was at my favorite campground… no camp host, a river and a stream, a very clean outhouse, completely beautiful, and completely free.  At this point I’d camped quite a few times by myself but always with others in the campground.  “OK, I’m ready for this.”  Funny how the universe likes to play BIG jokes on you isn’t it?

The entire night was spent with a HUGE thunder and lightning storm just overhead.  I’m not exaggerating when I say all night.  I think it let up at about 5am.  So yes, I spent the first part of the night scared… but not scared about an animal.  I was scared wondering if I should have put my tent under that tree.  Wondering if my tent poles would be a gigantic lightening rod.  Then eventually just REALLY annoyed that I couldn’t possibly go to sleep no matter how much I wanted to.  Each lightening burst was so bright that it lit up the tent even with my eyes closed.  By 2am I was simply too tired to be scared… I just wanted to sleep damn it!
I laughed a bit to myself that instead of being able to be scared about being alone and eaten by a cougar I was instead worried and then annoyed about something completely different.

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So how might you become OK with camping solo and what are my rules (that I try to follow)?

  • For your first camp trip alone pick a spot that has a LOT of different campgrounds in a close area. That way you can find a place that has a lot of options.  You won’t be forced into staying in a campground you don’t like.  You can go find another campground that feels better to you.  Maybe even pick a place that isn’t too far from a hotel so you can make that choice if you need to.
  • Go on a week day during the summer (but not a holiday week). Fridays and Saturday nights or holiday weekends will severely limit your choices, if you have any at all.  This is your first trip.  Make it intentional.
  • For your first trip find a place with a camp host. Often they are older couples.  If, for some reason, you don’t get a good vibe from your camp host, leave and go to a place where you do.
  • This one is really my number one rule… the one I try to follow still to this day as everything else hinges on it… DO THIS! Get to your camp spot during the daylight hours.  EVERYTHING is creepy at night, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the area.  Plus, your ability to move if something feels wrong is severely limited if you’ve shown up late at night.  Arriving during the day gives you options.
  • Scope out the area during the day. Where are the bathrooms?  Who is around you?  Does anyone there give you the creeps?  How about people you’d like to get to know or introduce yourself to that might make you feel safer?  Know your environment including the people in it.
  • Learn how to store food and smelly products safely so they aren’t in your tent. You might not be scared of animals but you don’t want to be put in a situation where that changes.  The big hint, don’t keep anything smelly with you in your tent.
  • Do NOT be afraid to leave if something or someone freaks you out. As ladies we’re often told to be polite.  This is the number one thing that can get us in to trouble.  WHO CARES if we offend someone by leaving?  It’s your life we’re talking about here.  Do NOT second guess yourself.  Before you leave for your trip set up triggers that you’ll follow no matter what as to when you leave.  Follow them.  A trigger might be- a campground with very few campers and one group is a group of very drunk men.  Don’t allow yourself to talk yourself out of a trigger.  You put these fail safes in for a reason.  Remember, do NOT second guess yourself.
  • Don’t be overly friendly with guys, especially guys who are camping alone or with other guys. You already know this.  But it’s more important here than before.  I’ve actually never had a problem with this when camping alone, but likely because I keep my guard up.  That doesn’t mean you have to be rude.  It’s really no different than when you’re waiting for a bus alone or anything else.
  • Still don’t think you can do it? Then do it alone… in a group!  Get a group of your friends together who want to camp alone and find a big camp ground.  Camp spread out in the camp ground so you’re “alone”.  Make sure you spend time after dark by yourself… no hanging out right until bed with each other.  Each night, spend a bit more time alone.  This way you have the comfort of knowing there are others around you.  Sure, it will cost you more to camp this way, but like any learning experience, sometimes it’s worth the cost.
  • If your friends are really worried, get a DeLorme InReach, a Spot or similar device so you can check in.

 

Need help putting together your camping plan?  Want some ideas of where to camp solo?  Have some of your own ideas on how to do this?  Have you done trips on your own?  Share your questions or experiences below!

 

PS, if, like me, you’re often more afraid of animals than people, check out Western Wildlife Outreach here for information on cougars, bears and other wild critters and how to stay safe around them.

 

Iron Butt- Scooter Style

After a brief, eight year foray into the world of Hondas my husband Terry and I returned to the fold and purchased BMWs: me a C650GT scooter and Terry the R1200GS Adventure. He’d always missed his GSA, and Wayne at South Sound BMW seduced me into trying the scooter. It turned out to be too much fun to ride to pass it up, and it was quickly taking its place among the other bikes in the garage. Adding a GPS, top box, and wiring for heated gear, and taking it to Rich’s Custom Upholstery for a few modifications to the seat, and the scooter was ready for the style of riding I like to do, long distances.

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In addition to hopping on the bike and covering a thousand miles in twenty-four hours without a thought, I like to ride competitive rallies. Essentially a scavenger hunt on two wheels, riders plan routes and prove they have been to a designated location by taking a photograph of either their bike or a rally flag included in the picture with the desired object. Points of varying values are awarded for each location, depending on the difficulty of obtaining it or the distance from the start or finish: the harder to get, typically the more points it is worth. The highest score wins. There are numerous rallies run throughout the US and Canada, some lasting as little as eight hours, others spanning months. Most are twenty-four hours with the ultimate being the Iron Butt Rally, an eleven-day event occurring in the odd years.

Terry and I have finished the IBR twice, both times on the same bike. Once we started riding separate bikes, the idea of competing as a team was intriguing, and in early 2014 we tossed our names into the lottery for the 2015 Rally. When we were selected, we began training in earnest to be prepared for a new experience: riding together but having to compete as individuals.

In preparing for the IBR it became apparent that while getting decent mileage on the scooter I would need an added auxiliary fuel cell if I didn’t want to spend all my time in gas stations. The challenge was where to mount one since the bike’s storage is under the seat, and the logical placement of the tank was atop the pillion seat. Practice and creative thinking solved our dilemma. Terry would carry the meager extra clothing I would need during the rally and I could carry my lightweight heated gear and gloves in my top box, thus giving me the space for the cell and doubling my fuel capacity.Lynda on Scooter

The 2015 Iron Butt Rally started and finished in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with a checkpoint back at the start and another in Kingsport, Tennessee. The theme was a National Parks Tours: to be a finisher, a rider had to ride to twenty-five states and fifty National Parks, Monuments or Historic Sites within the eleven day window. Each location had a given point value: to do well in the standings meant scoring the parks worth the most points.

Our route planning was simple: I wanted to be the first rider to finish solo after having ridden as pillion, so my initial strategy was simply not to screw up. After the first day, however, my competitive juices kicked in and I wanted to ride my best ride, no matter where that landed me in the standings. Balancing weather, miles, points, and required rest bonuses, where we had to stop moving for a minimum of four hours and a maximum of eight, Leg One took us through eight states in three and a half days. Heading into scoring, I knew if I didn’t lose any points I had accomplished one goal: I was already ahead of Terry by sixteen points due to the timing of our receipts for the rest bonus.

weatherDuring the three legs of the Rally we rode through twenty-six states and stopped at fifty-seven bonuses taking pictures primarily of visitor centers. I thought I’d be exhausted riding over eighty-six hundred miles in eleven days, but I was exhilarated. The roads taking us to many of the parks were off the beaten track, unencumbered by heavy traffic, and gorgeous. There were too many breathtaking moments coming around corners to be greeted by unexpected beauty to count, and riding our two bikes as a team, instead of taking in the view blocked by Terry’s helmet combined to make this a truly memorable experience. The scooter handled the challenge wonderfully. When all the scores were tallied, I came in forty-second and he came in forty-third out of the eighty-seven riders who started. I can now claim to be the first person to have competed in the Iron Butt Rally as a pillion and as a solo rider, along with the fun of teasing Terry about those sixteen points.

People have asked me why I compete in rallies. Terry provided a great answer when we were evaluating the cost-benefit of participating in the IBR: we’re paying for someone else to send us down some amazing roads to see things we might not know were there. It’s a way to spend vacation time together while throwing in the challenge of creating a great ride and the thrill of working against the clock. I like pushing my personal envelope to see what I can accomplish, and this rally definitely fit that category. I have a fun hanging out with Terry, I get to meet some wonderful people, and I get to do something I love: ride.Natural Bridges

 -Lynda Lahman

 

Lynda is the author of 3 books, ‘Two-Up: Navigating a Relationship 1,000 Miles at a Time,’ ‘From Iron Lung to Iron Butt: Riding Polio Into History,’ and ‘The Winner’s Mind: Strengthening Mental Skills in Athletes.’ Her next book, ‘The Women’s Guide to Motorcycling’ will be available in June. She writes a regular column, Perspective, for the Iron Butt Magazine. In addition to her writing she is a mental skills coach specializing in working with athletes.’

 

Have you ever thought about riding an Iron Butt?  What questions do you have for Lynda?

Riding Solo as a Woman (or as a Guy!)

Precious few photos from my first moto trip... I was too busy riding to stop...

Precious few photos from my first moto trip… I was too busy riding to stop…

I’ve never really had a problem riding by myself.  To be frank I preferred the idea to riding with others.  I could choose my own pace, not being pushed by anyone else or feeling like I needed to keep up.  Sure, I get the whole “ride your own ride” but I also know as a new rider I would be apt to try to keep up even against my best intentions.  On my own there was no one to keep up with.

Solo rides down the Oregon coast in early December proved that this was a great option.  Certainly no one I know would have gone as slow as I did on that trip, three whole months into my motorcycle riding career.  A year later riding solo through Baja confirmed my choice as I got to experience the freedom of riding alone, challenging my ability to corner on the twisty roads of Baja without pushing myself further than I wanted to go.  I became a better rider at my own pace.

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Even in Baja, where traffic is few and far between, there are people around who will stop to help.

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Though there is still a LOT of alone time.

 

 

 

 

 


As a good friend Laura once said, riding solo as a female is the best of both worlds.  You’re not threatening because you’re a female but you’re also not someone to mess with, because you’re a female on a bike.  In Baja I might as well have been an alien…. A solo female on a bike is NOT the norm.  I was treated with the utmost respect everywhere I went.  As someone who travels solo in Latin American countries I can tell you that the treatment I receive when I ride is quite different than the treatment I receive when I’m traveling without a bike.  I much prefer the former.

When it comes to picking up my bike, I can do that alone if need be.  To be frank, most of the time people are more than willing to help if I ask for help, and sometimes even if I don’t.  In Baja I managed to fall over at a military check point while messing with something behind me while still sitting on the bike.  It was a very Wile e Coyote moment… suddenly recognizing your feet aren’t really on the ground.  The bike was almost back up before it was over thanks to the gentleman behind me.  Unlike the Road Runner, he was out of his car before I was off the bike and was helping me get the bike up almost instantly.  People are regularly far more helpful than not.

How do you get comfortable riding solo?  Baby steps.

  • IMG_4543Start with a relatively easy ride. Got a friend in the next state?  Take the highway down to visit.  Go on a route where you know you’ll have phone reception the whole way.  Easy right?  Not really any different than riding around town.  If you’ve not done that yet then start there and work up, riding around town, and then to the next town, etc.  Leave with a charged battery on your phone or set yourself up so you can charge while you ride.  Something like this by Powerlet.
  • Take a solo ride to a beach town. You could use a night to yourself right?  Pick a hotel where you feel comfortable.  Spend some money on a place that is nice enough so you’re comfortable with your fellow guests.  When you call ask about the entrances for the rooms, etc.  Stay in a nice part of town.  Look at review sites and ask friends for suggestions.
  • Do the same thing but tack on a few more days… go one more town down the coast. Look at you, you’re road tripping all by yourself!
  • Family worried? Make them buy you a Spot, a DeLorme InReach, or similar device.
  • IMG_4544Set up your bike with good lights. I don’t care how much you insist you won’t ride at night.  Hopefully you won’t.  But if you do, it might well be because something happened that caused you to have to.  Be prepared.  I’m a HUGE fan of Clearwater lights… they are tiny and insanely bright.  Best yet they give you two extra points of light while riding during the day, making you a bit more visible to cars all the time.  The first time I flipped the brights on while riding at night I giggled uncontrollably.  I could see ALL THE THINGS!
  • Have good maps and consider a GPS. Not only will you have access to gas stations and hotels with your GPS but you’ll have a backup.  Extra information is always good.
  • FUEL UP. Stop WAY before you need to.  Fuel you too.  Eat more often than you think you need to.  Drink water more than you think you need to.  Always carry food, water and fuel.  If it’s hot make sure you’re drinking something with electrolytes (no, really).  Gatorade, Cytomax (my preference), something.  Plain water isn’t enough.  Take a water bladder and wear it if you can.  You won’t know you’re dehydrated when you’re riding but when you almost fall over after you get off the bike you’ll be amazed that you were riding like that.  Don’t ask me how I know.
  • Stop and take pictures. It gives you a chance to check in with yourself to see if you are, indeed, dehydrated.
  • Ride at whatever pace you want to. Feel free to let people go around you by riding to the side and waving people around.  The biggest thing that will get you into trouble is your ego.  So you got stuck riding at night and the speed limit on the dark twisty road is 50mph but you can’t seem to do it?  So don’t.  Ride to the side, turn up your lights and let people go around you.  Stop when you can and as early as you can.  Choose a different hotel if you need to.  Ride your own ride.
  • Everything sounds reasonable while sitting in bed in your pajamas. “Why yes, I can certainly ride an 800 mile day in the rain at 40 degrees!”    Be reasonable and plan for less than you think you can handle, and then plan for even less than that.  Especially for your first trip.  You can’t control all the variables that might come up for your trip.  Don’t make your over optimism be part of creating a bad trip from the beginning.  Again, ask me how I know…
  • IMG_4545Get your bike serviced before you go on any long trip. If you work on your own bike I’d still suggest having someone else take a look at it.   Learn how to fix a flat if you need to and carry some basic tools on your bike.  Think through what would happen if your machine fails.  And then don’t spaz about it.  What would happen if your car died on the same trip?  It’s not all that different.  There are tow trucks and people that can help you pretty much everywhere.  Consider carrying one of these.  They work to power your phone and can even start a diesel truck if need be!
  • If you’re really worried, look through your whole route and mark out possible places to stop. Where are hotels where you might feel comfortable?  Where are 24 hour restaurants?  Where are coffee shops?  Who can you call to pick you up if you freak out?  Is there someone you can have on call to come get you if you get too freaked out?  Have them on call.
  • Still really freaked out? Do a BMW group ride (an inside joke between my partner and I based on how I ride… aka solo!  See you tonight at our meeting spot!).  Get a group of friends together and plan on going to the same place but leave at different times so you’re riding solo.  Plan on going the same route, maybe even plan on stopping at the same places for lunch or coffee.  This will take longer as some folks will wait while people show up and others will have to wait while people leave but you’ll know there are people around you…. Sort of.
  • Take it at your own pace. Challenge yourself slowly and as you’re comfortable.  Don’t let anyone push you into something that doesn’t feel right.  Have a backup plan.

Need help with a back-up plan?  Want some ideas of where to ride?  Have some ideas on how to do this?  Have you done trips on your own?  Share your questions or experiences below!  I’d love to help answer your question AND learn your tricks and tips!

Where to Ride This Weekend – August 30th

Where to Ride This Weekend

 

Just a quick one this weekend… but it’s a good one.  After all, what’s not to like about a chance to win a Ducati?!  Join us on Sunday at Emerald Downs and roll for your chance to win a Ducati Streetfighter!

KZOK

Watch the video below to learn more:


 

Where did you ride this weekend?  Got a great upcoming event to share?  Let us know!

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