Nov 19, 2023

A Two-Wheeled Life

That is a pretty arrogant title coming from someone as uninspiring as me. Mostly, my two-wheeled vehicles have been transportation, first, and recreational, second. For 18 years, there was also a vocational aspect to my motorcycling when I was an MSF instructor. I did have a brief, very low level regional (Texas and Nebraska) racing moment (about 10 years) with motocross, cross-country, enduros, and observed trials. That period of my two wheeled life was only partially recreational because to support that habit I ran a repair shop out of my tiny garage for six of those years and even sold Ossa dirt bikes for three of those years. Since I have been riding motorcycles since at least 1963 and the overwhelming majority of miles I’ve put on motorcycles has been commuting to work and school. My brother and I have mixed memories of when we started and which of us got the first motorcycle in the family. (He thinks I was first and I think he was.) We both remember how much our father hated motorcycles and how quickly shit could go badly when something he discovered one of his sons was doing something he disliked. (My “favorite” example was him tossing a loaned electric bass and bass amplifier down the basement stairs when he discovered I’d made more money playing in a band one summer than he made all year as a high school teacher.) Between bicycles and motorcycles, I have lived a lot of my life on two wheels.

Some people get to keep doing this sort of thing a really long time. Some of us die doing the thing we love. Most of us, get shoved off of two wheels due to old age and infirmity. I don’t know if I’m there yet, but the last few years and, especially, this fall have presented a lot of obstacles that seem ominous. In early 2019, I started to have bouts of double-vision that seemed to be untreatable until after I had been diagnosed with myasthenia gravis (MG) in June and medications (I love prednisone!) began to control the symptoms. By then, I’d sold my 2004 V-Strom both due to the vision issues and declining upper body strength that made my wonderful near-400 pound motorcycle impractical and, probably, dangerous. The next spring, at the beginning of the COVID shutdown, I sold my WR250X. At the time, I figured I was finished with motorcycling. I was 72 years old and looking at my father’s history and decline due to MG and fully expected to be in a wheelchair and trying to figure out what was happening on a big screen LCD television from a one-foot viewing-distance.

Did I mention I love Prednisone?

Thanks to terrific medical care from the Mayo Clinic’s Neurology Department and the perseverance of my doctor there, I got most of my function back by late 2020. My grandson had donated a beat-to-snot Rad Rover eBike in 2019 and I’d revived it and started riding it that winter, quickly discovering that me and ice still don’t mix. By the spring of 2020, I was on that bike for practically every local errand or half-assed-excuse to go somewhere by myself. As of this past summer, thanks to the incredibly generosity of an old friend, I have a Specialized electric mountain bike that has a suspension rivaling my WR250X. A collection of physical setbacks made riding a lot this past summer difficult, but I managed to put more than 1,000 miles on the old Rover and just short of 400 miles on the Specialized bike. That’s not impressive by any standard, I know. But it is what I managed this year.

I had some big, hopelessly optimistic goals for this past summer and I managed to achieve exactly none of them, except the bare minimum 1,000 mile goal for the Rad. Back in March of 2023, I weighed somewhere between 234 and 238 pounds. I only barely remember seeing those startling numbers on my bathroom scale and at the doc’s office, but those hefty values stuck with me. I gave myself a target to shoot for and a reward: under 200 pounds by the end of summer and a long motorcycle trip to . . . somewhere. Obviously, I didn’t make it. I’ve been stuck between 198 and 202 pounds since the end of September, which means no tour this year. My poor, setup to travel, barely-and-rarely-used 2012 Suzuki TU250X sits in the garage with far fewer miles than either of my bicycles on the odometer.

Mrs. Day is fond of saying, “It could always be worse.” Which is almost always undeniably true. About the middle of October, I woke up one morning to discover my right knee was almost useless. I couldn’t support myself on that leg at all. I think it would be safe to say this is the worst (and the first) “injury” I’ve ever experienced that wasn’t preceded by . . . something: a fall from a bike, stumbling down a cliff, landing wrong from a jump or a ladder, or some event that I could tie to why the hell my leg isn’t working. A month and a half later, it still isn’t wholly functioning, but it has cost me a good bit of the physical conditioning I’d built up during the summer. This is how old people end up in wheelchairs, they wake up after a good night’s sleep crippled. WTF!

Since I retired in 2013, I’ve had a few “this is it” scares. Sooner or later, one of ‘em will be the one that puts me into a cage for the rest of my life—maybe an ambulance, maybe a hearse, or just our Honda CRV—but a cage nonetheless. I used to tell my motorcycle safety students, “Always worry about people who are so incompetent they need 4-wheels to stay upright.” From where I wobble now, I think that was amazingly good advice.


Geoff James said...

Hi Thomas,
We could be doppelgangers at different ends of the earth if you've seen any of my recent blog posts. Retiring from riding 18 months ago after around 58 years in the saddle and currently recovering from a new knee have served up a different environment to get used to. I've also got to summon up the courage to get a slight heart flutter checked out. Nonetheless, having a couple of fall-back interests in terms of a classic car and sea fishing gives my wife and I stuff we can do together and not sit around waiting for the Grim Reaper. Growing older doesn't have to be all bad 😊.

Good luck and best wishes,


Brad Sinn, formerly of MN, now of the mountains of AZ said...

Great read as always. I too wonder what is post-two wheels for me. I'm 56, started riding in 1975 on a Honda Trail 70, got my first road bike at 17 (1972 Honda CB450) and have had a series of BMWs, Hondas, 1-Ducati and now an old Moto Guzzi that is a lot better than I would have expected, especially the brembo brakes. My riding habits are similar to yours, mostly back and forth to work but I do 4-5,000 miles per year commuting. Riding somewhere random always seemed, well, random but I love my commute.

3-wheelers don't appeal to me at all and I've never cared for convertibles.
I've been at risk all these years on a bike, maybe just an old/unsafe Mini Cooper to go run old guy errands with.

Take care Thomas.

T.W. Day said...

Geoff and Brad,

As always, great to hear from you. Getting "older" isn't always bad, but being actually "old" ain't great. For most of my 75 years, I've taken for-granted my genetic "ability" to quickly heal from almost any kind of trauma. And I have pushed that luck hard often. This past year, and particularly, this past couple of months seem to be marking the end of my regenerative abilities. That is going to take some effort to get used to, as in finally listening to Mrs. Day's constantly nagging "Be careful!"

Weirdly, I kind of have to "thank" a bad reaction to working with concrete when we first moved to our current home (it really agitated the arthritis in my hands) and that long stint of wrestling with crap VW electronics in 2013-14 while we were trapped in New Mexico for a long winter. That warning flag and the extended "spare time" living in a dead camper put me back into music after 40 years on the "technical side of the glass." That and my usual distractions have made some of this letdown easier.


Geoff James said...

Hello Tom and Brad,
Tom, your last sentence is telling. Reconnecting with an old interest plus other distractions are helping with the letdown. I prefer the word transition but that's just me being anal. In any event, we have sufficient interests to largely avoid boredom. With my recent knee replacement, I'm working hard on flexibility so that I can get out on the e-mountain bike again. I'm just hoping that the heart murmur which is currently being investigated doesn't spoil plans for an ongoing active life. I might ponder this some more on a future blog post but don't want to appear sorry for myself. I've managed to avoid sentences starting with "If only...." and pretty sure I can avoid them now.

T.W. Day said...

I think "transition" is a perfect word for what has to happen toward the tail end of life (I hate the "as I get older" phrase because that applies to a just-born baby. I am fuckin' old and will only progress to "really old" from here out.) I'm currently doing as much as I can motivate myself to do in an effort to avoid knee replacement. My doc's clinical description of my "deranged internal right knee" pretty much put me on notice that I better start taking care of what remains of that hinge or go through 6 miserable months of post-surgical rehab.

I think we're both old enough that felling sorry for ourselves is close to hilarious. I suspect you, like me, know more than a few people who have gone down the tubes at a lot younger age. However, when we talk about possible upcoming spring, summer, or fall projects or winter trips, Mrs. Day and I both start the discussion with "if we're still alive" and we're being optimistic.