On Slowing Down
I’ll confess that for nearly all of my 50+ years of riding motorcycles I have been
something of a “speed-demon” on two wheels. Astride my latest “pocket rocket” or
sport-touring bike I would careen down the curviest of backcountry roads with near
reckless abandon, scraping pegs and burning rubber all along the tarmac. The fact
that I have survived all these years is as much attributable to mere luck as it is to at
least having a basic knowledge of my skill level. Although, as many of us have seen,
riding speeds can often trump skill levels and tragedy can result.
I averted a near tragedy a few years back when I collided, rather unceremoniously,
with a full-sized mule deer while riding my Kawasaki Concourse two-up through
Montana’s picturesque Bitterroot Valley. Amazingly, I stayed upright, perhaps due
to striking the animal in its neck area. Still, I suffered a fractured ankle and my now
furry, bloody, and tangled Concourse was totaled, along with said Montana mule
deer. At least the local highway patrol let me off with only a stern warning after
originally threatening to ticket me for “wild animal endangerment”. Ahh, the joy of
During my ensuing eight weeks of horizontal recuperation, I pondered much on how
this unfortunate incident could have been perhaps prevented. There really was only
one sensible answer: Simply slow down and I could add a few valuable seconds to
my reaction time.
Since my accident I believe that motorcycling had sadly become something far more
fearful to me and now my machines had unfortunately grown too idle and dust-
covered. It felt as though I had lost a beloved lifetime friend. Now it seemed that
the businesses of finding, restoring, and collecting of vintage motorcycles had
completely displaced my long-held love of riding. But some things never change for
long. I guess I just missed riding too much and the open road was calling.
My son and his family had recently relocated to Reno, Nevada, from Houston and he
strongly encouraged me to bring my Suzuki 650 V-Strom out from Texas this
summer. During a lull in my grandfatherly responsibilities, I snuck away from Reno
and rode north along the arid and rocky eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada
mountains, then west over the 10,000 ft. snow-laden Lassen pass, across the
sweltering Central Valley of California, and north into the rugged Trinity Alps.
Lastly, it was on to my cousin’s home in the tiny, rustic hamlet of Ft. Jones near the
Oregon border. What an incredible journey! In fact, I have never enjoyed
motorcycling as much as I had on this ride. My passion was alive again! Why, what
had changed for me after my Montana disaster?
It was all very simple indeed. The speed-demon in me had finally been vanquished
and I made the very conscious and deliberate decision to simply slow down. No
more white-knuckled corners, court summonses, or speed-induced adrenaline rushes.
In fact, I was even passed on a couple of occasions by lead-footer oldsters in
speeding RVs! But that just didn’t matter any longer.
I need not go into all of the many joys motorcycling has to offer because we all know
of them. But just ponder for a moment how excessive speed will seriously
compromise our ability to savor the many OTHER pleasures our sport has to offer.
Complete concentration on maximum cornering speed, lean angles, and traction
control leaves very little time or energy to enjoy the spectacular mountain vistas or
to “smell the roses” along the (high) way.
Now, as I look back on my Reno to Ft. Jones trip my memories are not hazy and my
mental images are not faded blurs. No longer traveling at the speed limit plus 20, I
could then appreciate the pristine mountain streams as they cascaded and tumbled
along my route. There was time to savor the dewy, pine-scented forests which at
times so richly engulfed me. There were moments to stop and explore the national
parks, the panoramic vistas, and secluded mountain communities along my winding
and breath-taking route. Throughout the ride my senses were keyed into the
glorious scenery, the joys of the open road, and the wonders to behold in lands
newly discovered. I was truly experiencing a new-found awareness, peacefulness,
and calm which was not possible at my prior “break-neck” speeds.
No doubt the cynics out there will simply say that “Dude, you’re just old and getting
older”. Well at 66 years I guess they are right. But for those relentless “speed-
demons” out there, give it some serious thought—on slowing down. Probably
something we should all do, on a motorcycle or not. You will live longer and you will
live better. Be safe out there.