About Me

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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Saying Goodbye...*



*American Motorcyclist 5/2007

Copyright © 2006 by Ralph Couey

There comes a time in a relationship when parting becomes the necessary, even logical thing to do. For riders, guys especially, the time we spend with our bikes is less "ownership" than "relationship." Over the years and the miles, a bond develops between us and our machines. It's difficult to articulate exactly why this is so.

In most cases, riding is viewed as a solo activity. Whether it's a ride through spectacular natural beauty, a vigorous prosecution of hairpins and switchbacks, or simply time spent clearing one's head, the experience is an internal one. Ronald Reagan once said, "The best thing for the inside of a man is the outside of a horse." Change "horse" to "motorcycle" and most riders would sagely nod in agreement.

A motorcycle, despite our willful anthropomorphizing, is a mechanical construct; an engineer's vision executed by an assembly line. The unenlightened insist that it is a soulless collection of metal and plastic parts. But riders can feel the collection of parts rise in concert and transcend themselves to a higher plane of existence, taking us along for the ride.

Riders change, acquiring more skills as time goes on. The bike that was such a challenge to us in the beginning now seems to be unable to follow us to the places our skills can take us. "Upgrade" is the operative word here. Our habits change, as well. At first, maybe we were content to commute and take rides in the country over the weekend. Now perhaps we feel the horizon calling and need a bike that can haul camping gear and a couple changes of clothing. Also, we have a desire to share the things we love with the people we love, which means that person needs to have a comfortable place to enjoy the ride. Whatever the reason, we will find ourselves one day ruminating about Making a Change.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

My Lake Superior Adventure

Copyright © 2006 by Ralph Couey

For every person who gets into a relationship with that two-wheeled heartbreaker known as a motorcycle at some point the road beckons. Not the afternoon ride, or even the weekend junket; but a true epic journey covering several days and many thousands of miles. It’s inevitable, especially for an American kid who grew up watching the lone hero on horseback ride through countless westerns. We, all of us, go through our days feeling the ties of obligation and responsibility. And we all dream at least a little about shucking off those burdens for a feeling of freedom. For me, that first urge hit in the late summer of 2001. More and more, I was finding myself perusing road atlases, unconsciously choosing routes and stopovers, measuring the miles with my eyes and imagining what it would be like to watch the road unwind beneath my wheels.

I chose the Labor Day weekend, adding a couple of days on either end. And after weighing my available time and pondering the direction of my soul, I chose the destination: Lake Superior.

Lake Superior was gouged out of the tough hide of the Canadian Shield during the last great Ice Age. It is the largest fresh-water body by surface area, and the third largest by volume. It’s very name reflects its place among other lakes in North America. Shaped like a stylized wolf preparing to devour Minnesota, it is a place of heart-stopping beauty. It is also a place where, in the late fall and winter, Mother Nature unleashes her wrath with storms of terrifying fury. Hundreds of shipwrecks lay in her depths, most notably the ore freighter Edmund Fitzgerald. Along her shores lie forests of deep green and rocky shores bearing mute witness to the power of her waves. As I read about the area, I knew it was a place I had to see.

DAY 1

Friday, November 03, 2006

A Wild West Ride on a Wyatt Earp Pilgrimage

Jornada del Muerto, New Mexico

Copyright © 2002 by Ralph Couey

"Cross the most rugged and daunting peaks
in utter darkness,
the heavens pouring forth their fury
while you grapple for control,
guided by a feeble ray of light barely visible
on a highway black as death.

"Traverse endless, blistering deserts,
the sands a roaring furnace below
and the sun a pitiless, burning firestorm above.
Follow the tortured paths left behind
by those who pioneered the way,
seeking to tame a wild land and forge a better life.

"Pass alone through vast and terrible chasms
hewn and rent from the living rock
by the unassailable forces of nature,
treasuring the feeling of insignificance and mortality.

"Merge in perfect union with a stunning cloudless sky
and breathe deep the fragrant prairie zephyrs.
Follow the sinuous course of a thundering river
to the humble streams that form its source.

"In every moment, feel the sublime and awesome hand of God
and in your soul a Communion with the eternal.
Look then to the dark sky
and thrill to the promise of the unrisen sun
that will soon shine upon the hook and crook
of a gnarled mountain trace,
knowing in your heart the machine’s power
to exalt life or render death.

 "In the quiescence of the deepest night
gaze in wonder upon the machine;
 your accomplice, partner, and soul mate.
In your innermost reflections
you see the machine as sinister and yet seductive;
soulless and yet transcendent;
ordinary and yet unique.

"Know that even though you own the machine,
the machine possesses you.

 "The Horizon is calling;

"Heed the call.

 Go Ride…”

 --Original Author Unknown
Additional Material by Ralph Couey

I like maps. Maps are the sketchbooks upon which I plot my fantasies. Open roads, new adventures, alien landscapes, all become a part of the dreams that float through my mind, much as a high plains thunderstorm glides across the horizon. Most people see a road map as a myriad of lines, dots, and words. For me, however, the lines, dots, and words spring into a pseudo-three dimensional reality; limitless plains, powerful mountains, shifting deserts, and countless shoreline highways. My eyes follow the multi-colored lines on the page, but in my mind, I feel the sun on my shoulders, the wind in my face, and the reassuring rumble of a V-twin engine. In the summer of 2002, the urging of those dreams put me on the road to chase my horizons.

I spent much of my youth chasing about the southwest, first with my father and then as a summer employee of a Texas-based cattle operation. During those years, I fell in love with the wide-open skies and the many-textured and multi-hued terrain. It was so different from my home state Missouri, where the rolling hills made the horizon seem much too close, almost claustrophobic. The west seemed limitless. Even when mountains became the horizon, their dramatic angles and features gave them an aura of eternity. With this land of wide horizons, I also had a deep personal connection. In a youth spent searching for meaning and the answers to questions eternal, the west had given me perspective; a perfect backdrop upon which the musings of a young man’s mind could range as far as the stars and nebulae that populated the night sky, with thoughts as personal and intimate as the inside of a sleeping bag. The memories of those priceless days brought me great comfort over the years during those times when reality became a burden.

The Magic of the Open Road*



Johnstown Tribune-Democrat 7/30/2006

Copyright © 2006 by Ralph Couey

The other day, I was passed the URL for the website of an acquaintance, actually a list member of the Internet motorcycle group I belong to. He embarked on a trip that is the stuff of legends. Between July 2 and August 13, he rode 10,000 miles.

According to his online log (updated daily courtesy of WiFi) he traveled from Tennessee all the way up to Dawson and Skagway in Canada’s Yukon Territory and back.

Most of us in the motorcycling community know someone who has taken long, epic trips. I think for the rest of us the reaction is universal; a tinge of envy, yet sharing the excitement of the journey, and with today’s global interconnectivity, living the day-to-day adventure, if only vicariously, via the Internet. For those of us left behind, the walls and ceilings that make up the invisible boundaries of our individual lives seem to close in. For the first time, we sense the prison of obligation and responsibility we’ve built.

A Song of Wyoming

Music and Lyrics by John Denver

I’m weary and tired, I’ve done my days ridin’
Nighttime is rollin’ my way;
The sky’s all on fire and the lights slowly fading,
Peaceful and still ends the day.
Out on the trail night birds are callin’
Singin’ their wild melody;
Down in the canyon the cottonwood whispers
A Song of Wyoming for me.

Well, I’ve wandered around the town and the city,
Tried to figure the how and the why.
I’ve stopped all my schemin’;
I’m just driftin’ and dreamin’,
Watching the river roll by.

Here comes that big ole prairie moon risin’,
Shinin’ down bright as can be;
Up on the hill there’s a coyote singin’
A Song of Wyoming for me.

Now its whiskey and tobacco and bitter black coffee,
A lonesome old dogie am I.
Wakin’ up on the range,
Lord I feel like an angel;
Feel like I almost could fly.

Drift like a cloud out over the badlands,
Sing like a bird in the tree;
The wind in the sage sounds like heaven singin’
A Song of Wyoming for me,
A Song of Wyoming for me.

--John Denver

Bikes and Big Ben*

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat 7/16/2006

Copyright © 2006 by Ralph Couey

The accident in Pittsburgh that sent Steelers Quarterback and regional heartthrob Ben Rothlesberger into a 7-hour surgery is so full of sidebars and implications that it’s hard to know exactly where to start.

What is known at this point is that Big Ben was operating his Suzuki Hayabusa in a safe, legal, and responsible manner when an elderly woman turned left in front of him. This scenario is painfully familiar to riders. When motorcycle accident statistics are analyzed one can readily see that this is the most common type of accident in which the rider wasn’t at fault. This, of course, doesn’t begin to count the hundreds of times each day this situation creates near-misses.

We are taught in safety courses to try to always think ahead, crafting escape routes and maneuvers to avoid such dire situations. But when a car pulls out in front and presents the broadside angle, the very position of the car eliminates most of the available options for the motorcyclist. Just because a driver looks at you, they don’t always see you; hence the inevitable t-bone collision. Caution and care must be exercised by both parties in order to avoid disaster.

It was with certainty that this incident would raise the helmet issue with all its passionate and divisive rhetoric. Since Rothlesberger’s severest injuries were confined to his head, it is natural to make the case that a good-quality helmet would have mitigated the worst of the impact. The insides of modern helmets are lined with high-impact foam engineered to slow the impact of the head, thereby preventing the brain from ping-ponging around the inside of the skull. Also, the chin piece on a full-face helmet is there specifically to protect the jawbone from getting either broken or jammed back into the vertebrae. Others will argue that helmets actually contribute to injury due to the added weight on the head.

I’m no engineer. But I do know that since helmet laws were softened nationwide, there has been a 30% increase in head trauma-caused deaths. Some of this increase is accounted for by the explosion in the popularity of this activity; more riders, therefore more accidents. But there are a lot of inexperienced riders taking to the roads, many riding bikes that are too heavy or too fast for their ability and experience levels.