Saturday, September 18, 2004

Riding the range

The first step to Alaska and Tierra del Fuego is getting a motorcycle driver's license, in California, an "M1" endorsement on my regular driver's license. I opted to sign up for a three-day "Basic Rider Course" provided by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF). This alleviates the need to take a Department of Motor Vehicles driving test. And since it has been 30 years since I've owned a motorcycle, a refresher is highly advisable.

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After a classroom session Thursday evening, motorcycle rider training began "on the range" in Petaluma today. I showed up at Kennilworth Junior High School at 12:30 p.m., wearing an "Eddie Bauer" winter coat, jeans, my "Merrill" hiking boots (from Vermont) and a pair of leather work gloves, hardly the appropriate biker fashions.

The first order of business was a simple written test, derived from the classroom lecture and training booklet. "Aced" the test.

We then went out onto the expanse of asphalt behind the school to meet our machines. For those of us who were not already outfitted riders, loaner helmets were offered. I selected an old battered full-face helmet. The bike I would be riding was an aging Honda 125. The equipment was pretty beat up, yet adequate for training purposes.

We were introduced to the controls. (I don't think they even had "kill switches" when I rode in the early 70s!) The instructor thoroughly explained and reinforced starting and stopping procedures.

During pauses in the action, I continued to gaze around the school grounds registering the sad deterioration. A testimony to our fiscal neglect, that began with California's Proposition 13, and continues with the selfishness of those now in power (all of us).

The longer the class went on, the more impressed I was by the content of this $198 course. It should be mandatory for riders, not just an optional track to a license.

And the longer it went, the more proud I was of my daughter Jessica, who had quietly undertaken the course before me.

There was one embarrassing moment when I locked up my front wheel during a braking test, but generally, things went well. We adjourned after 5:00, with our final session tomorrow.

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