Saturday, April 21, 2007

"New Baby, Must Sell"

If you own motorbikes (or boats, or quads, or other big toys), and you troll the internet for-sale listings fantasizing about your next ride (or boat or whatever), then you’ve no doubt seen those four words or a variation on them, such as the popular “baby on the way, must sell!”

People (typically, fathers or fathers-to-be), usually sell their big-boy toys for one of four reasons: no time left to play with said toy, financial pressure, spousal pressure (“that bike/boat/quad/pool table goes, or I go!”), or strong feelings of self-preservation in the face of the new arrival.

That last one is a toughie.

On a recent sunny day, I took my beautiful 1982 Honda CBX for a short ride. The CBX is a bike I lusted after as a youngster, and several years ago, when the chance came to grab one, I sold a bike I had then and grabbed it. It’s been bliss ever since.

But the question remains: as a father, how much risk should you take? What’s reasonable, and what’s foolish? I am sure many people will condemn me or call me selfish for riding in the face of having a baby, and truth be told, I did not do any riding after last fall in order to remove one risk factor as Liam’s birth got closer. I usually ride all year round.

Billions of people around the world ride motorbikes each day, and for some, it’s their only transportation. Sometimes their very survival depends on a little Honda or Yamaha beater bike. Often, a whole family will motor around on a little bike.

But in the U.S., the typical way most people get around is in their car. Our society is built around the automobile. Motorbikes are recreational vehicles in this country. That may change when gas hits $8 a gallon, but I digress.

I did a lot of thinking about how (or if) my behavior would change with the arrival of a child. Most people get more safety conscious, and that is normal. I think I drive slower now. Maybe.

For some, there’s nothing to consider. They lead “safe lives:” they get up, drive to work, drive home, go to the gym, maybe do an outside thing like bicycle or golf, and then watch some TV. Pretty safe. And that’s fine if that’s what keeps them happy. To each his own.

But it does not work for me.

I am an adventure seeker, and a photojournalist on top of it. My idea of a good time is running with my camera towards the forest fire, not away from it. On our honeymoon, I strapped myself into a barely-airworthy powered hang glider and flew around Kauai at 40 mph, at elevations ranging from soaring 6,000 feet over Waiimea Canyon to skimming 10 feet above the ocean. Fantastic!! Ask to see the video sometime.

But still, if it is in your nature to take risks, what do you cross off the list when family obligations come to the fore? Should climbers stop climbing mountains? Should skiers swear off the slopes? Should cyclists park their bikes and start driving their cars? Should police officers turn in their badges? Should soldiers lay down arms and tell their commanders, “you know, this is just too dangerous, I’m going home.”?

As a journalist at KATU, I see some of the craziest things, especially when people get killed, and a lot of people are getting killed. I swear, we do one fatality story every day – at least. Many times, the victim was hapless: they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, just minding their own business. Then, boom: hit by a car that went up on the sidewalk where they were walking. Or run over on their bicycle on the way home from work. Or skied into a tree or ravine. Or killed in an act of violence through no fault of their own. We think we live in a safe world, and for the most part we do. But not always.

Recently, Savannah and I watched a great TV series called 'Long Way Round' . It’s a seven-part series about two guys, well-known actor Ewan McGregor (from the new Star Wars films), and his pal, lesser-known actor Charlie Boorman, and their epic 115-day adventure of riding two BMW motorcycles from London, England (they’re Brits) to New York City the ‘long way,’ through Eastern Europe, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Siberian Russia (in the Springtime). Then they fly to Alaska and ride across much of Canada and the U.S. (which was the easy part).

Because they are quite wealthy, they take the trip on top-of-the-line BMW GS motorbikes, with every luxury and gadget, and have two support vehicles following them. They have satellite phones, unlimited budgets and a song in their heart as they begin.

Along the way, they find out that they are actually utterly unprepared and the trip nearly kills them at several points.

Both men have wives and small children. All ends happily enough, but along the way, Ewan McGregor confronts the concept of risk-taking. He says something to the effect that many people don’t take risks because of the ‘what ifs’: what if they got hurt (they did)? What if they have a major breakdown in the middle of nowhere, far from help (they do)? And so on. But it is a good question.

In the end, was the journey, and the risk involved, worth it? The answer for them was yes, without a doubt. It made them appreciate their families all the more.

Back out on my CBX, cruising along Interstate 84 into the Columbia River Gorge scenic area, I change lanes to pass a rumbling semi hauling three trailers. I click the big Honda down to fourth gear and roll on the power, and the big white motorbike shoots past the big rig in seconds. It never fails to thrill.

No car (well, no car costing less than $100,000) can match the experience. And no car – none – can match the incredible view from the cockpit of a motorbike. A good ride is a singular, even spiritual, experience. It’s why motorcycling is nearly a religion.

I dream of a time in the near future when perhaps my son will join me on such a ride, but I will not coerce him, it will be his choice. He may opt for a safe life, and think me crazy for riding motorbikes. Or he may outdo me and be the guy that installs flagpoles on the tops of skyscrapers. We shall see.

But as he grows up, I’ll continue to ride bikes, both motorized and pedal-powered, and wear my safety gear, and watch out for all the other drivers. 23 years of riding has taught me some tricks and made me aware of the dangers. I’m not invincible and I know that. I’ve made arrangements if I get hurt, or worse.

Just in case.


Candice said...

Cute picture!

I see no reason to give up something that is so much a part of who you are, just because it *could* be dangerous. You are inadvertently teaching your son that it's okay to have interests and be himself, even when society may disapprove.

(I know Savannah through MDC.)

RichardGoodrich said...

I am sure enjoying this travelogue and watch as you grow with Liam!

Grandpa Richard