Dec 3, 2018

One Too Many Minds

All Rights Reserved © 2016 Thomas W. Day

too-many_minds 2In my early twenties, I decided that horseback riding and me were a bad fit. For most of you, that wouldn’t be a big decision. For me, it was an end to a fairly significant part of my personal history. I’d ridden horses since I was a little kid, since one of my uncles owned a large eastern Kansas ranch and always had a couple dozen working horses on his property. That uncle was enough of a role model that I still like digging post holes to this day, because he taught me how to use that tool. Growing up in Dodge City, Kansas loving western movies and real rodeos (and I still do), at one time I assumed I’d be riding off into the sunset on a horse. For at least 30 years, I had a horseback trip from Kansas to Alaska on my bucket list. Sometime between moving to California in the 80's and 2007 when I rode my V-Strom to Alaska, the horse and pack-mule plan disappeared from the list.
too-many_minds 3 
I didn’t quit liking horses. Horses and mules are terrific animals: dependable, brave, funny, loyal, and a smarter than a lot of humans. I just don’t like them well enough to maintain one and I’m not smart enough to cope with equine psychology. The phrase “eats like a horse” is no joke. A full grown horse eats about 20 pounds of food a day (or about $6/day and $2,000/year). A vet bill averages about $1,500/year and you can spend way more than that in a blink of a blink of a pink eye. Horses are intelligent enough to unlatch gates and disassemble fences and they definitely know how to get back to the barn where there is food and a roof over their heads, regardless of where I want them to go. Getting a horse to agree on a destination is not much different from preventing a corporate executive from destroying a business; it's practically impossible. It's also not worth the effort. You have to really love the relationship between a horse and a human to make that commitment and I'm not that guy. I like horses the same way I like giraffes, zebras, gazelles, and buffalo. I'm glad to share the planet with them, but I don't need a personal relationship.

I took a couple of trips this summer with friends. Mostly, I had a good time hanging out and nothing bad happened on either trip. However, both excursions left me wondering why people travel in packs of motorcycles. Not to beat a horse post-termination, but economically it makes no sense for 2-20 people to ride to the same destinations at the same speed on 2-20 vehicles that burn 25-50 gallons per mile each. Do the math. You'd always be better off renting a bus or driving your own vehicle with all seats stuffed. Motorcycles are awesome solo vehicles, especially small, versatile motorcycles that can go places cages can't and do it more efficiently. My Yamaha WR250X, even with it's mediocre 50-60mpg fuel consumption, is an amazing touring bike. It's hard to imagine a road that would be too difficult for even an old man like me to explore.

Riding in a group is way too much like riding a horse. Too many minds to keep track of at a point in my life (a point that has lasted for most of my life) when I can barely remember what I’m doing, let alone what someone else is about to do that will complicate my situation. Almost a decade ago, I started my Alaska trip with a friend who is a very competent rider and a spectacularly nice guy. At the time, riding more than 50 miles with someone else was a rare event for me. I had more than a half-million two-wheeled miles under my belt and I suspect less than 5,000 of that came in any sort of group riding situation. (For most purposes, I consider two people in any sort of closed space to be a "crowd" and any more than that to be a rampaging hoard of mindless savages. My tolerance for my fellow human expands considerably outdoors where I can deal with a half-dozen people before I want to slink into the woods.) While he was constantly trying to get me to "pair up," I was a lot more comfortable with about a mile between us. He almost never used his brakes to slow down and when he did it was because he'd overshot his intended turn and that often resulted in a full-panic stop for me. My reason for the trip was to sightsee and take my sweet time for thirty days in the first extended vacation of my 61 years of life. He had two weeks to get to Alaska, tick off a list of destinations, and get back to work. For about a week, we knocked off 800-1,000 mile days and I was having almost as much fun as being at work. After the Yukon's Dempster Highway bit me in the ass, we parted ways so he could get back to ticking off his targets and I could take a day off for a bush plane trip over Alaska's permafrost swamps with my son-in-law's cousin. Over the next two weeks, I put in a few 1,000 mile days because I was riding in 23 hours of daylight. But I stopped when I wanted, took pictures of all sorts of silly crap, ate when I was hungry, and camped when and where I felt like spending a night. The first week of the trip was closer to frustrating than fun and the last three weeks were life-changing. 

 
Any time I see a pack of pirates or squids cruising on US61 or WI35, it’s pretty obvious that many of the members of those groups are hanging on for dear life without any hope of being able to make an evasive maneuver if one is required. Working to preserve their "formation," they wander all over the road, come to wobbly and unstable stops, and transform curves into random motion demonstrations. The whole “safety in numbers” delusion gets proven grossly wrong multiple times every summer. Group rides are always a significant contributor to motorcycle crashes, injuries, and deaths. Not that many years ago, one of Minnesota's safety instructors was killed when she fell down in an intersection and the rest of the pack ran over her! I've seen one rider wander off of the road into a ditch, followed by three other riders who apparently figured the ditch was part of the route. It's very difficult-to-impossible to decouple your ride from the rest of the group and as dangerous as motorcycling is adding group psychology to the task adds a whole new dimension to the risk. Personally, I don't see the attraction, let alone find anything in a group ride that repays the return-on-risk-investment. Group riding proves David Roth's theory of crowd intelligence: divide the smartest person in the crowd's IQ by the number of people in the crowd for the group IQ. I don't know anyone smart enough to correct for my contribution to that equation.

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