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Reflections on a Crash

The other day, I belatedly realized I’d never written about my motorcycle accident, which occurred Sunday morning, May 24, 2015. Given how significant an event it was (at least for me!), I’m going to rectify that omission right now.

The accident took place on Pescadero Road, between La Honda and Pescadero, along the uphill climb off of California 84. It’s a relatively wooded twisty, without much direct sky exposure, but not especially challenging (I just road it today, without any problems). Of course, I had less than six months riding experience at the time of the accident, and there had been some light rainfall the night before in the area, so there were some puddles on the road. Moreover, there were, and still are, a few road heaves — small but sharp bumps — some of which are on curves. I suspect I hit one of them that was next to a puddle, lost control, and went down. Or maybe I lost control dodging some animal crossing the road. 

Motorcycle Crash – Pescadero Road – 5/24/2015

I doubt I’ll ever know, because I have no memory of the accident. Turns out forming memories takes time, and while you’re not normally aware of that, if you get knocked unconscious, it’s not uncommon for “pending” memories to just disappear and not come back. When I asked the Stanford neurologist who had treated me if there would be any problem with me revisiting the accident scene, she said “It’s not like the movies, sir; lost memories don’t come back, because they were never formed in the first place.”

In any event, down I went…and, hitting the ground, even at no more than 25 MPH, without the benefit of seatbelts, air bags, and a nice metal shell, can cause a lot of damage (25 MPH is about 36 feet per second). So I broke every rib on my right side, some in multiple places, gave myself a minor concussion (which would’ve been far worse if I hadn’t been wearing an excellent, full-face Shoei helmet) and knocked myself out.

For a day.

Punctuated initially by a few brief snippets of consciousness, like when I briefly came to in the back of the ambulance, staring at the ceiling, thinking “this isn’t right”, all the while hearing one of the paramedics telling Barbara, on my phone, “he’s all right [really?], we’re taking him to Stanford, you can meet him there”.

Me during my first day at Stanford; taken by my wife, I think, in an attempt to convince me not to ride again - click to enlarge

But how, you may ask, was I found to be taken to Stanford? After all, Pescadero Road is lightly traveled at the best of times, and there’s even less traffic on Sundays.

Well, it turns out I was running something called CrashLight on my iPhone, which is an add-on to an app called Eat, Sleep, Ride, which allows you to log and track your motorcycle journeys. CrashLight monitors your smartphone’s sensors to determine if a crash has occurred. If it thinks one has, it sounds an alert and starts a count-down clock, which allows you to cancel false alarms. If the alert isn’t canceled, once the count-down completes, CrashLight notifies your emergency contacts, by phone, text message, email, or any combination of the three.

In my case, it notified both my son and my wife via text message. She didn’t get the message because she was outside gardening, but she heard the phone ring when my son called to say that he thought I’d had an accident. She immediately called 911…and was able to tell them where I was, because the CrashLight message contains the phone’s last known location, based on GPS monitoring.

I was a big believer in CrashLight before my accident, and I became a huge proponent of it afterwards. The CrashLight team keeps improving the product, along with the rest of the Eat, Sleep, Ride app, making it easier to use and less prone to false alarms. I particularly appreciate how quickly the programmers respond to issues that get raised; they’re really responsive.

Now, admittedly, one of the biggest limitations of CrashLight has nothing to do with the app. It’s just that if you’re out of cell phone coverage when you go down, the emergency messages can’t get out. So I still make it a point to share my itineraries with my family before I hit the road.

But I’m hopeful that even this limitation will be removed, by linking CrashLight to a satellite-based text messaging device like the Garmin InReach, the BriarTek CerberLink, or the soon-to-be-released SomeWear Labs’ SomeWear device. These all use the Iridium satellite network to enable two-way text messaging from any place on Earth where you have a view of the sky.

They’re not cheap (hundreds of dollars for the devices, and an Iridium SMS account is required). But, to me, that’s still cheap insurance to carry when I’m off exploring the backroads.

Because you see, my wife was unsuccessful with those ICU pictures. I still love to ride, mended ribs and all. In fact, I just recently upgraded my steed to a Yamaha FJR-1300ES.

See you out on the highways and by-ways. Ride safe!

Road Trip #1: The Map

Here’s the route I pretty much followed, although it doesn’t show the side excursion to where the road was closed on the way to Mount Hamilton, and some of the details on the exact path I followed from Coalinga to Los Banos may be off.

Total distance, about 450 miles.

Road Trip #1: Day 3

There are interesting patches of California which are near major urban areas, but totally divorced from them. Consider this Google Earth view of the area to the southeast of the Bay Area:

San Antonio Valley

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It’s surrounded to the north, east and west by heavily populated and/or developed areas. Yet there’s almost nothing there. Granted, it is up in what passes for “the mountains” to Bay Area residents. But while they occasionally get snow, they’re not all that high. I always thought it would be fun to explore them.

My last day of this road trip was supposed to involve crossing this area, starting from the San Joaquin Valley and ending up in San Jose, by way of Mount Hamilton. Things didn’t quite work out that way, after I ran into “road closed” signs on highway 130 in the middle of the area, several miles short of Mount Hamilton.

Fortunately, one of the great things about riding a bike for pleasure is that detours are mainly an excuse to ride more. So after stopping for a quick bite to eat at The Junction (the only eatery for miles, but the food was quite tasty), I headed north towards Livermore, and then came west over the Dumbarton Bridge and back into San Carlos. 

The stretches of road up in the mountains were quite a workout, and a lot of fun. I kicked my turning abilities up a few notches, by learning to lean further into turns while avoiding the feeling that you’re on some kind of amusement park ride. The trick seems to be to shift your center of mass down into the turn, while twisting your torso so that your head stays centered above the center of mass of you and the bike, minimizing rotational forces (which play havoc with the inner ears of those of us who aren’t Olympic ice skaters). Sounds easy, and it actually isn’t all that hard, but you end up working yourself and the bike quite a bit. Which may explain why I was both tired and hungry when I finished riding those great twisties.

One interesting road hazard I encountered was…cattle. Wandering around the side of the road, and sometimes on the road. I’m not sure who is more surprised by these encounters, me or the cattle.

The highlighted area on the map is the San Antonio Valley. Which is absolutely gorgeous (and apparently a favorite of birders, at least at certain times of the year). Sadly, it doesn’t offer any lodging (the woman working The Junction told me people kept trying to start lodges, but they kept going out of business). Granted, you can’t ski or swim in the Valley…but it would be a great place to kick back and get away from it all, without having to travel for hours to get there.

Road Trip#1: Day 2

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Today I road from Hollister to Los Banos, by way of Coalinga. The ride down Ca 25 was as spectacular as I remembered from when a Barbara and I drove it north to avoid traffic on US 101. Except this time it was a lot more green, courtesy of our winter rains. 

The last leg into Coalinga I did on Coalinga Road, which is a not terribly well maintained, fairly narrow bit of pavement. Which runs thru some beautiful, off the beaten track scenery. 

I was accompanied on that segment by Houston, a rider a bit older than me who lives in the Central Valley and was out exploring. We met at the Coalinga Road jump off, because the turn off isn’t labeled and his GPS had stopped working, so he wanted confirmation he was on the right route, which I was able to supply. It was nice having company, because there’s no cell coverage there, so if I’d had an accident, my iPhone-based crash detector would’ve been kinda useless. 

I also got to meet his rubber chicken squeak toy, Nasa. Because if he runs into difficulties, “Houston, we have a problem” 😀. I need to get a mascot of my own. 

From Coalinga to Los Banos I stayed off I-5, because I wanted to see a part of California most coastal denizens zoom by. It was both rewarding, to see one after another long established community exercising its creativity, and poignant, because many of them are struggling, or at least feel passed by. 

They all showed quite a bit of bustle, though. We’d all be better off, I think, if we figured out a way to link all that energy to the big pillars of the modern economy. Just think what it would be like to have a dozen Silicon Valleys and Biotech Gulches, all in California. Starting with the fact that mere mortals might be able to aspire to owning a home near where they work.

Road Trip #1: Day 1

  • Okay, on with the trip,

Day 1 was a brief hop from Santa Cruz to Hollister, getting ready to cruise thru the mountains behind the Pinnacles tomorrow. Assuming no one steals my bike overnight at the motel; even a sport tourer only weighs 650 pounds, and can be picked up by a few guys, even while locked (I’m not worried; besides, if you want to tour, you’ve gotta park somewhere). 

Hollister is a neat little city, mostly based on agribusiness I think. 

A few observations from the ride…

  • there’s a lot of beautiful landscape in California, which you don’t appreciate all that much when you travel by freeway;
  • there appears to be a significant Filipino-American population around here — I came across several signs announcing organizations and events focused on them;
  • the most impressive building in Hollister that I came across was a huge one dedicated to local veterans, which was nice to see;
  • there was a lot of traffic, even on the backroads…which was interesting, because the population density doesn’t seem all that high (it is an agricultural area, after all)

Road Trip #1: Day 0

My first official motorcycle road trip…meaning a multi day ride only being undertaken to sightsee from the saddle :).

This sequence should start with day 1…but since the adventure almost ended before it began, I thought starting with day 0 was appropriate. 

I’ve only laid a bike down three times, once on the road (thanx, Stanford, for putting me back together almost as good as new!) and twice in my driveway. The first time came on my first (unintentional) trip in the rain shortly after I started riding, when I was so relieved to get home in one piece that I forgot to put down the kickstand when I got off the bike. Turns out bikes can’t balance by themselves. 

Getting ready for this trip led to the second. It was drilled into me, in the CHP sponsored class I took to get my license, that you always, always check the lights, brake lights, turn signals, etc, before you get on a bike. 

My new Yamaha FJR, though, doesn’t turn on the headlight when you turn it on. The engine has to be running. So I adapted my training to include putting the bike in neutral and starting the engine. That let me check the headlights. 

But I forgot to shut it down and put it back into gear before mounting the luggage carriers. So, when torquing the luggage carriers to ensure they were securely mounted…I caused the bike to slide forward a fraction of an inch. Which was enough to destabilize the kickstand, and cause it to fold back into riding position. 

Bikes don’t balance well when their kickstands are up. You’d think I would’ve learned that. 

Sigh. Mucho $$$ damage to repair on a brand new bike, including a jittery left side mirror. But the dealer assured me the mirror wouldn’t come off, so I’m going on the long-planned trip anyway (turns out this kind of damage is not uncommon on FJRs). 

Memo to file: always leave the bike in gear when it’s parked and you’re not in the saddle. 

Meet the New Guy

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After thoroughly enjoying my Honda CB500X for years, I decided to upgrade. In part, I wanted more comfort, and some convenience features useful on longer trips. I also wanted to move beyond a chain-driven bike (most motorcycles transfer power from the engine to the rear wheel via what amounts to an amped-up bicycle chain…and those have to be maintained every 500 miles or so, at least on my Honda CB500X). Since most bike manufacturers don’t make drive-shaft bikes with small engines, I looked into buying a touring bike.

But then I found the Yamaha FJR-1300, a “sport touring” bike. Meaning it does touring just fine, looks sporty, and handles like a dream.

I experienced some trepidation about riding it home from the dealership. Would I be able to adapt to a slightly different shift lever location and a different handle bar configuration? How hard would it be to suddenly be operating a 1300cc/135 horsepower engine when all my experience was on a 500cc/45 horsepower engine? Would I blow myself off the saddle the first time I opened the throttle?

In the end, the transition was almost totally a non-event. The throttle is responsive, but not overly so, and you can leave it only a bit above “idle” for most city streets. My clutch work will probably suffer, because Yamaha rigged the clutch so when you start to engage it, the engine throttles up a bit. No more feathering the throttle when shifting, in most situations!

I ran into only three minor situations I have to work on:

  • the turn signal and horn controls are reversed from how Honda configures them. It’s embarrassing to blow the horn when you mean to signal a lane change.
  • the left foot rest moves more easily than on the Honda, so you can accidentally raise it when you don’t mean to. Disconcerting to put your shifting foot down and encounter nothing but air.
  • while the extra 200 pounds the bike sports is generally not noticeable, it sneakily shows up when making right turns from a stop on inclines. Oh, and pushing the heavier bike back into the garage, by foot, is much harder. Have to increase the weights I use on knee presses at the gym!

But, all in all, it’s a beautiful machine, and a dream to ride. Absolutely rock solid and stable when in motion (that’s the plus side of that extra weight).

Farewell, Faithful Steed!

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You were a great introduction to a pastime that I’ve grown to love more and more each year. And I don’t hold my one accident against you — it was clearly human error.

Fare the well…

A Good and Caring Man

Ray McHugh, Barbara’s dad, passed away, peacefully, on December 27, 2017.

He lived a long life, offering and finding much joy along the way. Always curious, he never stopped learning. Always gracious, he never missed a chance to share even just a few words with passersby. Always kind, he looked for the best in people.

His daughter Katie once asked him if there was any place in the world he wanted to visit, but hadn’t been able to. After thinking about it for a few moments, he answered, “Nope.” And that was not from a lack of adventurousness; over the course of his life, he visited all the places he wanted to see.

Born in Ohio, he not only survived a difficult youth during the Great Depression, but rose to take on the role of parent to his younger siblings when his dad was unable to. Moving to California, he completed his undergraduate and graduate work at Stanford University, and raised his family here, training many new teachers at Cal State Northridge.

He is survived by six children, six sons- and daughters-in-law, and eight grandchildren. He was a good man, and will be missed.

2nd Amendment Brainstorming

The latest round of gun-fueled insanity in Las Vegas has prompted, once again, calls for more rational gun control in these United States. Including by me.

But it occurred to me today that draconian shifts — which is what those of us appalled by the slaughter of little kids and concert goers keep pushing for — are, based on empirical evidence, probably unachievable.

Put another way, if the murder of screaming, terrified kindergartners and primary school students isn’t going to motivate us to take action, it’s likely nothing will. At least for that kind of contemplated action.

But that’s not the total universe of possible actions. In fact, when you remember “politics is the art of the possible”, maybe we can aim lower, and, if not eliminate this insanity, at least put a leash on it.

So here’s an idea. What if we amended the 2nd Amendment from this:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

To something like this:

A well regulated Militia being helpful to the security of a free State, the right of individuals of sound mind to keep and bear a modest number of Arms for personal use and protection, subject to reasonable regulation to maintain public safety, shall not be infringed.

This wouldn’t prevent gun ownership, for whatever reason, provided you can demonstrate you’re not a maniac, or nuts, or a risk to the rest of us.

It would clarify that this is a personal right, not associated with being part of a militia…which also opens the door to regulating groups of individuals organizing themselves with firearms.

And it explicitly acknowledges that this right of ownership, which exists, in part, to help maintain public safety (i.e., as a free State), must be balanced against the negative consequences that indiscriminate firearm ownership poses to public safety (i.e., the carnage we keep witnessing, and which we’d all like to reduce or eliminate).

Not being a Constitutional scholar, or lawyer, I won’t claim this as the last word. But I’m interested in hearing people’s reactions to it, and thoughts on how to improve it or redraft it.