The splint on my finger was supposed to be on for another couple weeks, but I didn’t want to pass up the chance to ride with my old friend, Jason, visiting from New York. He rented a Triumph Scrambler and we rode south down Route 280 toward San Jose to get to Skyline Boulevard to Big Basin.
Jessie had no problem starting up. I was afraid her battery would be weak from sitting for over a month in a garage with no outlets. The battery has a plastic cover attached to the top covering the terminals, which I suppose prevented power leakage.
Naturally, on this perfect sunny 70-degree riding day, we hit two detours. They set us back a good 30 minutes, including the time stopped checking Google Maps. What a relief to reach the other side of the second detour on Skyline Boulevard.
One thing I worry about is when roads are freshly paved. Tar can seep up in the heat and cause tires to lose traction. Skyline Boulevard seemed paved recently, but the asphalt wasn’t smooth like a swank neighborhood. Rather, it had rough texture, but I couldn’t tell how well the tires gripped it. I couldn’t recall having ridden on pavement like this before, and was unsure about leaning into turns. It was moments like this that I wished we were riding with sport bike riders who ride twisties fast. Riding together like that helps overcome fear of leaning into turns by seeing how it’s done and helps push personal speed limits.
At about 15 miles in on Skyline, we stopped at Alice’s Restaurant, where a crowd of motorcyclists ate lunch and rested. The biker camaraderie was classic. Jason and I sat at a table with two solo riders. One was a woman who rode a Ducati Monster. The other, a man, rode a Suzuki GSXr 750 and is a racing instructor at Laguna Seca. He had passed us a few miles before while giving a wave. Bastard. Really, he was cool. I wanted to ask racing questions, but he probably gets them all the time. I’d like to say he was Ken Hill, but I’m not sure.
In New York I had ridden with a meetup group, NYC Sport Bike Riders. Riding with those guys, I learned how to ride faster through turns. On Skyline I remembered to move my upper torso in the direction of turns, and get my butt off the seat when the turns got tight. In spite of remembering, I couldn’t find the courage to go more than 10 mph above the posted speed. We still got slowed down a few times behind cars. But most of them pulled over and let us pass. Thank goodness it was Friday and not Saturday or there would have been more cars. And bicycles.
For a few miles, the road was narrow with no shoulder and there was no middle line. Every time cars drove by in the opposite direction, I was afraid a driver might veer into our side. Despite the fear, we enjoyed the twists and made it safely to the park at Big Basin.
The way out toward the south wasn’t as fun as on the way in. Plus, we hit strong ocean winds back toward the city on Pacific Coast Highway. Jason struggled with the wind because his rented jacket resisted like a sail.
At the end of the ride, my hands felt like they had had an intense massage. The broken bone, a little sore.
PTSD Memory Gap
There was one aspect that made the experience more scary than being hit by cars: my memory due to PTSD. It had been six weeks since riding. That’s not very long, especially compared to Jason who hadn’t ridden in more than 6 months. Before rolling out, I sat on the bike for a few seconds, not remembering how to get the bike out of neutral. Eventually, left hand squeezed the clutch lever and left foot pressed down on the shifter. My body had remembered but I could not have explained how to do it. It was as if the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls motor skills, had access to my memory, but the cognitive part of my brain did not. When I saw that the neutral light was off, I had to acknowledge I was in first gear and that it was okay to pull the throttle and go. This lapse in cognition happened again and again each time we stopped. By the 4th stop, I stopped trying to remember what to do and let my muscle memory take over. Riding seemed normal again by the time we reached Big Basin.