Sunday, September 12, 2010

Back in the Saddle -- commentary

As the old western song implies, it is good to be back in the saddle again, only I’m talking motorcycles not horses. Nearly two years have transpired since the last time I got to throw my leg over one of these two wheel addictions.

My last ride morphed into my first helicopter ride. I had always wanted to take a helicopter ride, but not to an emergency room, and I would like to have had a memory of it. Also, the $17,000 airfare was a little steep. Fortunately I didn’t have to pay for it.

But, old addictions die hard and when all the legal aspects of my ride and a paltry settlement were completed, there was enough money left to buy an inexpensive, new ride, so I did.

Motorcycling is admittedly risky, and people think those of us who ride are a little crazy, and we may be, but I’m puzzled no one thinks the same when I ride a bicycle, which I do often for health reasons. Look at bicycle stats: 662 bicyclists killed in the U.S. in 2002 with 48,000 injured. Since we started keeping records in 1932, 47,000 bicyclists have been killed in accidents. (Next column I’ll talk about bicycling.)

Admittedly, it takes a little rationalizing to maintain this addiction. My rationalization involves the science of probabilities. The probability of one serious accident is low: the probability of two is nearly non-existent. And so, the rock climber who had to amputate his own arm is back to rock climbing and the teenage girl surfer who lost her arm to a shark is back to surfing.

I suppose, however, if you asked former Alaska Senator Stevens, and it would take a spiritual medium to do so, he would say though the probability of being in two airplane crashes is nearly non-existent, it can happen. It was the highly improbable crash that got him.

I’m amused by religious people who argue against evolution on the basis of probabilities. If there is any probability that something could happen, even one in a gazillion, it could happen. I remain agnostic on the issue, but for those who would argue this issue on probabilities, either declare it a zero probability or find a better argument.

There is a story about the fellow who wouldn’t fly for fear there would be a bomb on the plane. There came a time in his career when he was going to have to fly. He went to his friend, an insurance actuary, and asked him to figure the probabilities he would get on a plane with a bomb on it. His friend came back with the answer: one in a million. The fellow wasn’t comfortable with those odds, so he asked him to calculate the odds of getting on a plane with two bombs. The answer came back one in ten billion. Now the fellow says, “That’s why I always carry a bomb in my suitcase whenever I fly.”

Getting back to motorcycles, what is it about these two wheel machines that attract riders and make them willing to take the risk? Some say only a dog riding in a car with his head out the window and pointed into the wind really knows, but he can’t say.

I categorize travel according to how it allows the traveler to interact with the environment. Walking is the best form of transportation for maximum interaction with environment. You experience every shift in the wind, every change in smell, and every change in temperature. You feel it when a cloud hides the sun. You see the butterflies, the flowers, the deer, or the snake slithering across the road. The problem is 30 or 40 miles a day is max for the person in good condition.

Bicycling is one step back. You can still fully experience those things around you, while extending your distance to 80 or 90 miles a day if you are in good condition, though it still takes a lot of energy.

On a motorcycle, you still get to experience important aspects of your environment, such as temperatures, smells, and unobstructed sights while going the speed of an automobile.

The worst form of travel is the automobile because it cuts you off completely from the environment. You are in an air conditioned atmosphere and might as well be viewing your surroundings from a television screen. Motorcyclists refer to cars as cages and those who occupy them as cagers.

If you enjoy riding around in a cage, I only ask that you quit doing things that distract you, causing you to wander into my lane and that you look twice before entering a highway from a driveway or side street. Look specifically for motorcycles. It might surprise you how many you see. Look twice, save lives.

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