CARLESS for a month

I love a good challenge.  Especially if it involves a motorbike. Who amongst us does not? An iron butt ride 1,000 miles through a foggy night, an old tank shifted Panhead, up a mid western canyon, an ominous mountain pass serpentine on my ‘76 Bonneville, good times.  All challenges made easier through the assurance that a nice warm, dry car sits in the garage for when one is so inclined.  I have wondered if I were ‘biker’ enough to go ‘carless’ for a period at this point in my 50 + years of existence.  No cage, just 2 wheeled transport, day in, day out.  Now that is a challenge reserved for the not so faint of heart.  It is one I see conquered with routine ambivalence by clients and friends tougher than I.  Cold, rain, snow, heat, traffic, one single 2 wheeled mode of transportation, old school to work or store or school or wherever life needs you to go.  Through the melee of day to day travels, be they country roads or city blocks. No climate control, no plethora of airbags, no reclining lumbar 10 position electric seat, just motorcycle propulsion forward through the rigors of daily life!  I’ve theorized this imaginary existence in my mind many times.  There have been times in my life when 2 wheels were all I had.  Younger years, broker years, tougher years.  Years where youthful ignorance collided with lack of capital to produce car free periods of undaunted riding courage.  Like half the time in high school when my ’66 Mustang p.o.s. wouldn’t run, but my sporty did. Like my first year of Law School where I simply couldn’t afford more than an old CB 750. All in New York winters! Those years do not count.  To be young and stone tough I pine for wistfully, as both qualities have slipped from me decades ago without notice.  Till one day you wake up and as my little sister Kerry often says: “Damn, when did we get old?” (As a statement and not a question).

The question becomes, which to pilot? I prefer a Harley, although I do keep a few brands in the garage.  I really like them all, German, Italian, Japanese…  Likewise with cars; I am a Ford guy, but this does not preclude me from driving a Chevrolet Corvette as a commuter.  Not every day, but when the sun, the suit or the mood strikes me.  I mix it up out on the road.  To pick up a project bike in the truck or to enjoy a sunny afternoon on the Harley bobber or to zip around town top off the Jeep, sporting the mid life crisis I enthusiastically embrace.  All in the whim or the fortune or the luck of an internal combustion junky.  Lucky enough, or focused enough or perhaps blessed enough, call it what you will, but at this point in my life it sure would make ‘bike only’ travel challenging.  Lots of people I know here in the south ride a bike all year long.  Temperate winters, minimal snow and rural commutes all combine in the Southern States to make it possible.  Bikes are certainly cheaper to operate than cars.  Gas prices alone spike business at my Law Firm, wherein those who can choose, pick the bike more often when gas gets high, and unfortunately fate creeps up and catches some in a wreck.  Nonetheless, a commitment to 2 wheeled transportation for an extended period of time just seemed to be a good challenge to me.  It had been a while since I was not spoiled by 4 wheel choices.  How long could I do it? A year? A bit committal, not to mention risky, given the 25 or 30 thousand miles I log every 12 months, travelling to and fro with court and clients, kids and rallies.  A month? Yes, a more reasonable challenge.

The self challenge accepted, I decided to embark on such a journey.  The ‘month’ was a far more achievable plan although I would need to lean on my wife to help with the kids and delegate to my associates to help with the court appearances here or there.  Park the cage for a month and rain or shine go carless with no excuses.  I picked this past May because  after a quick internet search, I found that this month is characterized in Georgia by ‘rising daily high temperatures, highs increasing from 69°F to 76°F over the course of the month, exceeding 84°F and dropping below 57°F only one day in ten.’  And while there is a slightly higher probability for rain in May, it was the month where my court schedule was light, allowing jeans and riding boots most days.  My biker clients don’t really care if I wear a suit around the office and frankly seemed pleased when I dressed as they do. Judges, a little different story.

It all started out easily enough.  The days were temperate and the challenge was fresh.  I sipped coffee at the edge of my basement garage.  Three deer ate from the corn feeder my kids fill 30 yards from my back door. I smiled and eyed my Harley dresser in the garage and acceptingly turned to the task at hand.  It seemed exciting, new, challenging and youthful.  Even as my wife shook her head, pursing lips and doubting my sanity if not my resolve, I felt empowered.  The reality was, I thought this task to be simple.  I hit the garage door button scattering my backyard guests and tackled my challenge with enthusiastic nonchalance that first day.  “Like a walk in the park” I remember thinking, “this is going to be great.” Then, within 2 weeks, routine set in.  Rain came around like it always seems to do. Trickling drops of cold May rain snuck past wrist cuffs and down collars.  “Exciting” wore off quick!  The selfie pic shown with this story illustrates highway boredom evident in the corner of my eye. A new client calls from Savannah in the hospital, cut off by the proverbial minivan and off I went two wheeled.  Five hours on wet pavement.  A judge requires my appearance in Ben Hill County, South Georgia.  Another 4 hour commute South, back North in darkness.  A court hearing comes up in Augusta and a deposition is scheduled in Dalton.  I travel more in a month that I feel I ever have for work.  I crisscross the state half a dozen times.  A new rear tire and fresh oil 3 weeks in.   Within a week, I toss the old rubber rain gear that creates a personal sauna in my pants.  I blow $200 bucks on a quality HD ‘rain suit’ and would have doubled the price for the asking.  A wet ass a grumpy lawyer makes!

I have a few close calls and recorded much of my travels on my bike mounted “Go-Pro” camera.  I logged hundreds of hours of recordings, most boring.  I’m editing it down to a few minutes for a You Tube short.  A month without a car or truck.  Harder in fact than I thought it would be.  I look back upon it with fondness, but I recall the “what am I doing?” doubts sneaking up on rainy nights or foggy mornings.  What did I miss?  Well, a lot of things.  I missed hot coffee in the car on morning commutes through traffic. I missed talking through dashboard managed phone calls with call waiting, caller ID, mute and hands free voice commands.  I missed air conditioning on sunny afternoons.  I occasionally missed dry pants. I missed satellite radio and decent GPS. I missed the relaxed safety a car provides and I missed talking to my kids in the car when they didn’t make the bus. It makes me appreciate my car.  It also makes me appreciate the full time ‘biker’ as well.  I look at it like lent, a period where we Catholics give up something in order to appreciate what we have.  To feel something we call a “penance” and be reminded of a little suffering.  In the end, it made me appreciate having a choice.  You want to really appreciate something in your life?  Do without it for a month.  I do not think I even looked at my motorcycle for a week after that month was over.  Eventually, I longed for the road, the roar, the curves, the open feeling and settled into a riding schedule again dotted with car and truck use.  The best of both worlds once more, but a greater appreciation for those tougher or more adventurous than I. Turning the task into a yearly custom or ritual may be in order, grounding me in motorcycling, ensuring that I never take it for granted, realizing the current privilege to choose, remembering the times when I had no choice and was a “real biker.” –Irish

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