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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 61 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, February 22, 2011

The Thaw Ride**

*Chicago Tribune
March 18, 2011
as "Start out slow this spring"

*Somerset Daily American
March 19, 2011
as "Start out slow this spring"

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

As February turns into March, warmer weather will begin to spread northward.  Eventually even in the arctic-like north and northeast, the snow will melt, the roads will clear, and motorcyclists will take to the road in glee to start another riding season.
But in some parts of the nation, winter still grimly hangs on.  In those areas, however, riders will be teased by the appearance of a day or two of relatively warm weather and sun.  On those days, it is hard to resist the temptation to take the bike out for a spin. 
But there are still dangers out there.
Roads are still covered with salt, sand, and whatever else the DOT uses when the snow falls.  For a motorcycle, a road surface like that can be similar to riding on a bed of ball bearings.  Traction and control is decidedly iffy, not helped by the water left by melting snow.  Also, there are still shaded places where patches of ice remain.
On top of that, we must remember that drivers are not used to looking for us this early in the season.  Caution is the prudent style when riding in traffic.  This is especially true when approaching cross traffic, or motorists pulling out from side streets or turning left across your path.
In addition to outside hazards, we also have to remember that we haven’t been riding for several months.  Our skills need time to be recalled and implemented.  Instincts and reaction times will be off and we have to implement those scanning techniques that, while necessary on a bike, are seldom used in a car.  When you’ve been off the bike for a while, its best to take things slow.
Last week, I watched as a rider with his girl on the back, drove down a city street covered in water and gravel, while zigging in and out of traffic.  I held my breath, hoping I wouldn’t have to witness an accident.
I track motorcycle accidents, not out of some morbid interest, but because I’ve always felt that there are lessons to be learned from those times when it all goes sideways.  As I’ve read the reports (courtesy of Google News Alerts) the one thing that’s made the biggest impact is the stark realization of how quickly death can strike.
This past weekend, there were a couple of nice days to enjoy.  Riders around my neck of the woods had taken advantage and were out in force.  But the number of accident reports, which had been fairly low and pretty much restricted to southern states, ballooned.  Along with the usual number of riders who fell victim to inattentive motorists, there were a large number of accidents the cause of which could reasonably be attributed to the rider being out of practice.
There were accidents where the rider lost it on a curve; a couple involving the rider rear-ending a vehicle that had stopped or slowed in front of them.  Other riders were sliding out on gravel left on the road from the last snow.  One young man tried to take a cloverleaf off-ramp at 70 mph.  And a lot of other cases where the rider simply lost control, usually when speeding.
Riding is a hazardous undertaking.  Of that, no one is in dispute.  But we don’t need to add to those hazards by being careless.
If you’re going to take your bike out on one of those rare days, please be careful.  Take it slow until you know you’re instincts and good habits are re-established.  Watch carefully for debris on the road, especially for those isolated patches of ice.  Above all, know that drivers are not used to you being out there and won’t necessarily be looking for you.  Know the forecast before you set out.  Weather this time of year can change rapidly from sunny and warm to sleet and snow.  Some animals will be coming out of hibernation, so watch for them. 
These cautions are no-brainers during the riding season.  But as we all anxiously await those random opportunities to ride early, it’s time to put those long-dormant thoughts back in the front part of our brains.
There are two goals of every ride:
#1, Have fun, and #2, get home in one piece.
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