Recalibrating Expectations

Yesterday, Sunday November 11, 2021, was possibly the last really nice day of the year. Winter is coming and once it gets here it might stay for a while. I have done a crap job of motivating myself to ride my new (to me) motorcycle this season. I had some good excuses, cataract surgery in July that also sucked up a bit of August in recover, COVID made travel to many of the places I love to ride precarious, and a good bit of the Rockies were on fire during prime late fall riding season. But, mostly, I have realized that my primary lifetime justification for riding, transportation to and from work, is no longer in my life. I started off my “adult life” poor and remained pretty much on the edge of falling out of the lower middle class for about 3/5ths of my life.

I also fell into manufacturing and manufacturing engineering about the time I began to creep out of that precarious income bracket and ROI (Return On Investment) calculations became an everyday part of my life and remained so until I retired. I pretty much made every recreational activity I indulged in pay its own way, justify my participation and the activity’s existence financially. My band income paid for my musical instruments and the cost of being a musician. I got into “collecting” and trading musical equipment for several years and the money I made doing that paid for the recording studio equipment and facilities. First, my motorcycles were off-road recreational vehicles only, but I managed to pickup an Ossa dealership in the early 70s and I sold enough motorcycles to pay for my own and my wife’s dirt bikes. My garage was “The Dirt Shop” and I repaired everything from Ossas under warranty to street bikes. I started riding a street bike shortly before I moved to California in the early 80s and I made the move from Nebraska to southern California on my Honda CX500, carrying all of the clothing, books, and necessities I’d need for my first 3 months in California in a backpack strapped to the CX’s sissy bar. My motorcycles were my primary transportation in California for 10 years, in Indiana and Colorado for the next 6, and for at least 8 months a year for the first 22 years in Minnesota. I also taught the state’s Motorcycle Safety courses for 18 years, which provided about half of our family income for several of those years.

In Red Wing, I almost never have a compelling reason to ride a motorcycle anywhere. Downtown is 3 miles, an easy trip on my bicycles and an effortless trip on my eBike. After 50+ years of being on her own taking care of kids and a household while I worked 50-90 hour workweeks, my wife is doing everything she can to do the “togetherness thing” in our retirement years. We have taken more trips together in the past 6 years than in the previous 48 combined. Almost all of those trips have been in a cage.

Yesterday, I definitely felt that I either needed ride this motorcycle or admit that I have no good reason to own it. The previous owner put 700 miles on the odometer in the 9 years he owned it and, outside of some early summer trips, I’d have to do some traveling to rack up a 1,000 mile summer. Since I put 1400 miles on my eBike, that is more than a little embarrassing. After a bad start, fumbling around looking for some gear I eventually decided I didn’t need, I hit the road on the TU250X about 11AM. The weather was excellent and I’d forgotten how many terrific roads are within a dozen miles of my front door. We’d planned on doing a bicycle ride later that day, so I needed to get on it to push the odometer past the 1700 mile mark.

It was a weirdly eventful day, which I’ll describe in another post, and the weather and bike cooperated beautifully. Somewhere around the 2 hour mark, I realized that I was slowly losing my guilt complex about not having any particular place to go or reason for being out on the road burning fuel and cash.

2016 was the first year since I was 17 when I could file my income taxes on the 1040 short form. No outstanding invoices, no business expense deductions, no income outside of my Social Security checks and my required minimum IRA distributions, and a life with expenses that easily fall inside the standard deduction. After almost 50 years of justifying almost every expense, I’m suddenly in new territory; a life where just wanting to do something is justification to be doing it. And that, especially, applies to riding a motorcycle.

I’ve always ridiculed the Iron Butt competitions as something close to the ultimate conspicuous consumption activity: 1,000 miles a day to nowhere for no reason other than to say “I did it.” Honestly, living in retirement is not much different. We consume, but we don’t produce anything of value or importance. The old RV bumper sticker, “I’m spending my kids’ inheritance,” is pretty much what every day we’re alive is about.

A little more than 10 years ago, my grandson and I made a Rocky Mountain Tour and there was no income stream at all for that trip. I didn’t even try to line up a magazine to sell an article about the trip. We travelled to places I’ve been to a lot, but they were all firsts for Wolf. Ghost towns, weird back roads, tourist traps, geological and paleontology sites, and places I’ve lived and loved and even a few visits with relatives. The segment of the trip between the Black Hills and Steamboat Springs was a similar revelation to me as this weekend’s ride. It’s about 400 miles from Mt. Rushmore to Steamboat. I’d made that trip about a dozen times in the past decade and knew the route well. About half-way to Laramie I was beginning to question my memories, as the trip was taking a lot longer than I remembered. After a bit, I realized that I’d never ridden that section of the trip any where near the speed limits. With my grandson on board, I was sticking to 55mph even where I could see for miles and knew there was no chance a cop was running a speed trap. I’d practically flown that section of barely populated country in the past, but plugging along at 50-55mph changed everything about the ride. Good thing, too. A few miles outside of Laramie, the beat up farm-to-market road trashed one of my fork seals and the bike got a bit squirrely. At 55mph, that was easily dealt with. At 100+mph, not so much.

Now, I’m doing another kind of recalibration. Instead of riding for practical purposes, I’m going to have to try to become a recreational-only rider. That won’t be as easy as you might think. 50 years of habits and expectations are not easily changed. Stay tuned and any advice you have will be welcome.

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