Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Blue Biker Family

This is my daughter sitting on her own Ninja sport bike, wearing a pink motorcycle jacket. (I tried to raise her better!) She should be riding a Harley Davidson. Instead, she chose a "rice grinder".

I can not be surprised that my daughter purchased and rides her own motorcycle. When she was a girl, she rode behind me on my 1979 Harley Davidson Superglide. About the time she discovered boys, she became too cool to ride with me any longer. She grew up, moved away from home, eventually got married. Almost two years ago she surprised me by announcing she had her own motorcycle! I am very proud of her independence. When I tease her about not riding a Harley, it is all in good fun.

This summer she traded this red Ninja in for the same model in the 2009 edition, and it is blue. Her husband rides a big sports bike, also blue. My current Harley, a 2006 Street Bob, is blue. We are the Blue Biker Family.

Now that my daughter has been through the rider safety course and has over a year's experience riding her own motorcycle, I let her ride my latest Harley one afternoon when we had ridden to Lawrence to visit my son. She rode smoothly down the street on a REAL motorcycle, handling a 1442 cc engine - that is, 88 cubic inches - of American iron. No mother has ever been more proud!

My daughter sitting on my Harley.
Watching his sister take off on my bike, my son wanted to ride her Ninja. I was certain she would just say no, but she gave him the quick tour of the controls, and off he went. We held our breath as we watched him roll down the street. This is the same guy who has wrecked every single thing he has ever ridden or driven with wheels, starting with his little toddler ride-toy with handle bars when he was two. Luckily, the day he was trying out his sister's bike, he came back in one piece. Naturally, he then wanted to ride his mother's Harley. That was a difficult parenting choice, let me tell you.

My son preparing to take my bike for a spin.

I insisted that he wear a helmet and made him go over all the controls and repeat their function back to me. He was a bit nervous, but I was more nervous! He took off down the street and disappeared around a corner. He was gone longer than I expected. Just as I was beginning to panic, he came back into view, still riding conservatively. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and thanked the universe for not punishing me for breaking the cardinal rule of motorcycle ownership: never let an inexperienced rider take your motorcycle for a ride.

My son has since tried to talk me into riding my Harley again, but I flatly refuse. After he has taken the safety rider course, I might consider it. He is currently saving money to buy his own motorcycle. What self-respecting young man would not want his own motorcycle when both his mother and his sister ride? As much as my daughter and I worry about one another's safety out on the road, both of us are absolutely terrified of the idea of my son riding. He is too impulsive and fearless. But, once you have had the wind in your hair, it is only a matter of time before you are on the open road on a bike of your own.

Now I understand how much my own mother must have worried about me when I first started riding. No one expected me to be able to ride such a big bike. I am not 5 ft 2 inches tall. Back in those days, I only weighed 95 pounds. But nothing was going to stop me from riding. My son rode with me a few times as a little boy, but he would not sit still and would not hang on very well. I was very much afraid he was going to get hurt, so eventually I parked my bike. Now that my kids are grown, I am riding again. 80 miles an hour down the highway on a big rolling hunk of Milwaukee iron is just as wonderful now as it was when I was younger, maybe even better. And to be out there riding with my daughter again is the best!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Thunderstorms and Lightning

photo from public domain
Living in Kansas, you become familiar with thunderstorms and lightning because they happen any time of the year. Early this morning, the thunder rolled in and a spectacular storm lit the sky. It was unexpected since the weather has been mild and cool. One enormous clap of thunder shook the entire house and sent waves of adrenaline through me. I think only in war would a human being hear anything louder than thunderclaps directly overhead.

In my years in Kansas I have witnessed some amazing storms. One particular summer a storm blew down from the Rockies that flattened most of state's electrical infrastructure. The night it hit, I had fallen asleep with the front door open and woke to the comforting sound of distant thunder. I remained still, enjoying the cooling peace. Strange flashes of light, irregularly timed and oddly colored, drew me to the open door. The red, yellow, blue and amber flashes of color were lightning unlike any I had ever seen. I stood transfixed by the eerie strobing lights. That is why I was in the door when the fury hit. Incredulously, I watched the trees, illuminated by the street lights, bend low in unison in a strange and silent manner. Before I realized what I was seeing, the wind and noise exploded against the house with a howling blast.

I slammed the door shut about the same time the electricity went out. The full force of the storm came on - the wind was a wailing fury and the boards of the old house began to creak and moan. There was no basement and it was already too dangerous to leave the house for better cover. I was afraid. I was angry at myself for not paying better attention to the weather.

I woke my little girl and calmly led her to the center hallway. Covering her body with mine, we rode the storm out lying face down against the stairway wall. I was acutely aware of the large west window at the end of the hall and the groaning of the old house as it flexed and swayed in the furious battering. It creaked and moaned like a wooden ship at sea. It seemed the howling would never stop. I listened intently to the tones in the wind, straining to hear the first roaring of a tornado. Surely something this powerful was fueled by a massive tornado!

At last the fury calmed enough that the house was no longer groaning. That old place had weathered one more mighty storm, but some of the trees in the yard did not. All across Kansas there was tremendous wind damage, but no reports of tornadoes. It blew down electric lines over the entire state - a record breaking storm in scope and extent of damage.

I had seen colored lightning before but it was not associated with a massive storm and nothing as spectacular as the one that sent me cowering in the hallway. When I was in high school in a little town in north central Kansas, the dry and hot summer nights would sometimes generate heat lightning. It would flash across the sky with a perceived width, often red or yellow. The streaks would sometimes hang in the air for a moment and then fall into pieces, like fireworks, and fade away. There was never any audible thunder with it. I have never seen it since those days, but then I haven't been lying out in a sleeping bag staring up at the northern skies all night long, either.

The most spectacular lightning I have witnessed occurred the first summer I moved to Spirit Creek. There were many storms that first season. At the first sound of thunder, I stood under the cover of the front porch in celebration of my return to "the country". During the worst of one storm, a mighty river of lightning ripped out of the west seemingly just above the trees and across my entire farm. The lightning appeared to be as wide as the valley. It was an enormous sheet of light that simply disappeared into a tiny point high above the ground in the east. It was so surprising that I could not understand what I had just witnessed. Another incredible river of white light blasted across the angry sky just above my head and disappeared into a tiny point of nothing high in the east and then I realized it was striking the top of a 2000 ft. television tower two miles to the east. The inconceivable power and light vanishing in a point in the sky was a singularly awe inspiring sight.

To live on the earth where there are no huge thunderstorms, a person cannot understand how necessary and welcome they are. They cool everything, freshen the hot, stagnant air, bring a deeply appreciated respite from oppressive heat and humidity, generate much excitement, and light up the sky with spectacular living scenery. This is a great web site of lightning strikes, tornadoes, and thunderstorms taken by Gene Moore. It will give you a glimpse of a thunderstorm on the Great Plains.