Thursday, August 2, 2007

Don't bug me

I was going to start this blog on the virtues and nessecities of stopping on the vertical. I've dropped my bike a few times in the 30 years since I learned to ride. And I see people, mostly us weaker women, drop them all the time. But I got to thinking about the one time when instinct and habit took over and saved me from a drop, but it was also the moment when I knew men had the edge for sure when strength comes into play. That's why we women must work harder at riding correctly to avoid such things as dropping our bikes. So I'm going to tell you a story that still entertains me whenver I think about it.

I've been told of all the wonderful flora and fauna here in Florida (hmm, sounds like that could be a song or something), and indeed, my own backyard here in Tallahassee is a virtual jungle by now. Having left my lawnmower behind when I moved, I am trying desparately to ignore the front yard out my kitchen window that could hide things such as (gasp!) snakes and aligators. But seriously, this blog is about other things besides snakes and aligators, neither of which I've seen yet.

It's really about bugs, and the things us humans do in our interaction with them. Every place in the country has bugs. Florida has no monopoly on bugs. Though everyone else in the country seems to think it does. You're moving where?? Don't you know they have BUGS?

Now, I'm not necessarily squeamish about bugs in particular, but when they are larger than my big toe, and run from me at a rate that I can't keep up with, it becomes a matter of who is bigger than who. Ultimately I win. I always have my flip-flops on, and they make a great smacking sound (grin). These critters don't have a chance. The first time I saw a 3 inch long centipede in my house, I was so intriqued I poked at it for a good five minutes before I flushed it. I'd never seen one of those before. Or a bug that tried to fight back.

In Washington state, we we used to talk about the "barking beetles" you hear in the woods and other places, but never see. If you don't know what those are, I'm not explaining.

Oregon had snakes, everywhere. Mostly small ones, and none of them are venemous, but they get into your house, and hide in the most unsuspecting places. I know those aren't bugs, but they are still unnerving to find in your closet. Yellow Jackets are everywhere nine months out the year too. It was not uncommon to find more than one nest holed up in soggy spots on your lawn and wake them up while mowing. Oregon has an average of 300 overcast days per year (a little statistic for you). It's why I left. You do the math, without getting wet.

I'm not a "save the bugs" person. Not by a long shot. I believe the only good bug is a dead bug (well except for ladybugs). I have all manner of ways to make them dead. Riding my bike, however, does not give me any advantage, unless you are going very fast so they die on impact. I've been hit before by flying bugs while on my scooter. Big bugs, small bugs, bugs that thump me hard enough to feel like a bullet, and others that simply hit and become a wet spot on my vest. Once I was hit dead center in the forehead by some bug and it left a bump the size of a goose egg and even broke the skin. I hope that bugger died a slow agonizing death. I never saw what it was.

I've had near misses with other flying objects too. I tend to give big tractor/trailers lots of lead room, especially after having one shred a tire in front of me and miss my head by inches. I saw it coming, and tilted my head by a scant amount, not much but that's all I had time for. I could smell the burning rubber as it flew by. Several smaller pieces did hit me, one on the arm, and another hit my windshield. I had a Honda Shadow Ace back then, and the windshield was huge. I stayed upright though, through some miracle of miracles.

Another time, a cager threw a cigarette out and hit me. Typical. Aren't cagers wonderful?

I saw that trucker who lost the tire a few miles down the road, after he decided he should pull off, and I stopped to talk with him while he waited for a service truck. I got off my bike and took my helmet off, shaking out my hair (I love doing that, just to see the looks - I can always tell when they are surprised to see a woman riding a motorcycle). He told me he saw the rubber fly by me and was grateful it didn't hit me and knock me down. Me too, I was going pretty fast on the interstate.

Anyway, back to the subject of insects. I am very alergic to venemous bugs, such as bees, wasps and hornets, and the like. Yes, I carry an epinephrine injection with me most of the time. The last thing I need is for the headlines to read, "Biker goes down, dies of suffocation due to bee sting.... she was wearing a helmet!". I know some ass-bite misinformed journalist would make it out to be MY fault.

But I do wear a helmet (most of the time), and when I do, it's because I choose to. It does not have a full face shield - that's where I draw the line. My hair looks all messy most of the time anyway, so what's the difference? Hairdo by helmet, as the stickers say. I know if the Lord decides to take me, wearing a helmet isn't going to change much anyway. At least my kids could bury me with my brains intact. So I put it on, wear my leather gear like a good girl should, and hope no one hits me and breaks my arm, making it necessary to cut my $300 leather jacket off.

Riding down a 4-lane divided highway one spring morning, I see at the last minute that a small swarm (is there such a thing?) of some type is dead ahead in my path. Of course I slow down, but one of them hits me in the chest. And I look down to see a wasp embedded in the front of my shirt, AND IT'S ALIVE. Could it have possibly hit my leather vest? Oooooh noooo, it had to hit me just above the V-neck of my vest. Why it hadn't yet stung me, I'll never know. Maybe it was trying to shake off being T-boned by a biker?

Now, mind you, I'm already on the clutch and brake, getting over to the right lane, and looking for a place to pull off. Panic is setting in, and I'm thinking to myself, OK, it's just a wasp, take it slow, watch the traffic, if it stings, you'll live. I'm fighting the urge to keep from looking down at my chest and focus on the traffic, when a driveway appears on the right all too quickly, between more of that jungle stuff I was mentioning earlier (we had that overgrown jungle stuff in Maine too), where I can safely pull out of traffic.

I suppose I could have just driven right up on the sidewalk, but that thought never occurred to me at the time. Bikes aren't allowed on sidewalks. Remember, I was cruising at about 50 mph. Not all that fast, but looking for cars that might run me over while changing lanes, looking for a driveway to pull into, braking as much as possible without losing control, and all while thinking about being stung by a wasp that will surely close off my airways in a matter of minutes. There simply wasn't time to think of other things, like what I was gonna make for dinner or did I pay the electic bill - those were WAY down on the list.

Some of you may wonder why I just didn't grab the thing and throw it off me. But I remember thinking I didn't want it dropping inside my shirt, and fumbling around while trying to maneuver in traffic was not an option. And my gloves prevented me from knowing if I was grabbing it or not. I wear fingerless gloves now, mostly for that reason.

So I head for the driveway coming up faster than I want, and a safe place to de-bug myself. But, (and you knew there was a but) I nearly dropped my bike in the process of stopping, because it was one of those driveway that goes nowhere. It just stopped after five feet past the sidewalk with a nice 2 foot drop-off. They just put it there for future whatever, and the rain water had eroded the soil away over time. Beyond that drop-off was a lot more jungle-like stuff and a 45 degree downward slope. OK, time to really hit the brakes I'm thinking, in-between wasp/traffic/and where the heck is my epinephrine kit stored anyway?

My foremost thought was stopping in time, but behind all that was the veritcal position of my bike upon stopping. I nearly had it right too, but braking with both front and rear caused the rear end to slide a bit and put me in a slight lean to the right.

Well, I stopped within a hair's breadth of the edge but you know that line between balancing 650 lbs between your legs and letting it drop because you have to? It ain't far from vertical, let me tell you, especially on a Honda. I gave it all the strength I had and there was a moment when I thought I'd lose. All I knew was, thank you Lord, I wasn't going down that hill into the jungle, and most likely head first if I had.

But I did stop, and I kept it upright. And as I'm searching for the kickstand with my heel, my arms and legs shaking with the adrenaline rush, I glance down and see that nasty little wasp is still there! Before I can pick it off me though, it drops down between my seat and my left thigh and, yes, it stung me, right through my jeans. It must have saved up what little strength it had left to nail the person (me) that had the audacity to drop it (the wasp) in mid-flight.

I guess I should be thankful it didn't drop dead center, right? A wasp sting (on me anyway) hurts like a #@!!!@##&** and just because it was on the inside of my thigh and not somewhere else more sensitive.... Well, you could have heard me all the way to Manhattan I'm sure, and it wasn't pretty. Every colorful expletive I knew came out of my mouth, one after the other. And I'm sure the passing drivers, some of whom were slowing down to do that "looky-loo" thing, but not stopping, thought I probably had to use the bathroom, because I was hopping around with both hands between my legs. I'm sure it looked that way.

Oh, and by the way, I took great pleasure in stomping that wasp into the ground with my jack boots. I mean honestly, it could have just died, or dropped away without stinging me right? Fortunately, I needed to find my kit and that gave me a minute or two to cool off and count my blessings. I didn't go flying into the jungle, I didn't drop my bike, and I was still alive.

Now I've done this [Epinephrine shot] one other time before, and I wasn't too worried this time. But the time before that, I didn't know I was alergic, and I'd been stung just below the eye. Within minutes my eyes were swollen shut. I had to call 911 that time, and wasn't able to tell them what was wrong, beyond that I'd been stung, because of the wheezing and lack of air. They came anyway, and I didn't die. Someone once told me that 'close' only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades. But I'd still say it was too close for comfort.

So once I got over that I'd been stung, and how much that little bugger hurt, I found the kit, sat back propped against my seat and prepared the shot. I was wheezing slightly already. As I'm about to stick myself, this older gentleman walking down the sidewalk and stops to look at me. What he sees is me poised to poke my arm with a needle and syringe, and the look on his face was priceless. Was I a 'druggie' stopping to get my fix? Hmmm, leather jacket, big motorcycle, hair covered in a do-rag with a skull on the front. He actually looked ready to turn around and run. I've been accused of being intimidating before, but not like this. I thought maybe my makeup was running (oh wait, I don't wear that stuff unless I'm going out prowling or to a job interview).

Suddenly I burst out laughing hysterically, and it took me several minutes before I could tell him what had happened. After all, if you can't laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at? I amuse myself daily, and probably a lot of other people too. He never admitted to me what he was thinking in that moment, but he offered his assitance if I needed it. He said, in that peculiar Mainer accent, "Ayuh, you have a good day missy". He continued his walk, and I mounted up and headed for home. I had a swollen lump the size of a baseball on the inside of my thigh for days before it receded.

I still have these visions of what cagers saw as they drove by me that day. And what that elderly man must have thought. It always makes me giggle (women giggle, men guffaw). Thank God no one caught me on video. For weeks I watched World's Funniest Videos expecting to see myself on it. I still cringe too, whenever a bug hits me while riding.

And staying upright on a curve/stop? I still worry, but that makes me ride better and safer. It's all a matter of doing things in the right order; brake evenly, pull in the clutch, turn yourself upright and straight just before stopping, and depending on how much room you have and how fast you are going, those steps may have to be done each in a split second. Like if you turn into a driveway that goes nowhere.

Oh ya, and always keep your smiles close-lipped while riding during bug season. Trust me, it's a good idea.

1 comment:

rc said...

laughed a heap while reading this. could relate big time. Ok am not allergic to bee's but but have been stung on chest, thigh and eye trying to take em out with my bike. Even took out a vulture w/ my wind shield. And though a guy I dont mind copping to dropping my bike though with my bum leg if its going over I just step the hell off of it, Happened the other day outside of a bar I was in for no more than 5 mins (I don't drink, thats what Im allergic to) and a cop stops wanting and gives me the third degree.

But the visual of you jumping up and down like ya got to take leak in the middle of a driveway that goes nowhere is priceless.