Sunday, November 21, 2010

"Unproductive" Time in the Saddle

I have no idea why this post was published in all caps. I tried many times to get it published properly.  Apologies if it appears as if I'm yelling at you...

Only A Biker Knows Why A Dog Sticks Its Head Out Of A Car Window

Many of us have heard that, but it's true that only bikers get it.  Cagers never get the value of saddle time either.  I suppose I understand their mindset.  The goal when driving a car is to get wherever there is.  The goal for a biker is the experience of getting there.  Granted, for this trip I have an obvious destination in mind. But the sights and the sounds long the way are among the things that will make a trip like this memorable.

For those who have asked me how I can just sit in the saddle for twelve to fifteen hours a day for days on end, refer to the first line of this entry.  I think that for me, it's a control thing.  When I'm on my bike, I feel like I'm in control.  In my work, I travel almost every week and fly 50,000 to 70,000 miles domestically each year. People tell me that I'm George Clooney's character in that movie "Up in the Air" although unfortunately, women don't tell me I look like him. I admit that I'm definitely a seasoned traveler, but I think Clooney is a liberal tool. He can keep his looks.

In the course of all my travel, the only control I have over any aspect of my trip is when I get to the airport.  From that point, I relinquish control over my life to what I refer to as the "travel machine". The parts this machine include the airline ticket counter and its overworked/under-appreciated attendants, the gate agents, the aircraft and its aircrew, and even the guy on the tarmac with the glowing flashlights who is usually on break when my flight arrives.  The worst part of the travel machine is what I refer to as the Thousands Standing Around.  Little annoys me more than the bloated bureaucracy that is the TSA. In terms of genuine passenger safety and security, it's little more than window dressing.  I liken it to a WPA for the new millennium.  Yep...FDR's New Deal legacy lives on under the guise of passenger safety.  I try not to begrudge the TSA agents on the front lines in the airports, but I admit that at times it's very difficult to separate them from the shortsighted and inept policy makers for whom they work.  As a seasoned traveler and (way too) frequent flier, I know how to efficiently navigate through our Nation's airports.  I'm always fully prepared whenever I enter the screening line.  But it never fails that regardless of whichever line I get into, Helen Keller will be sitting behind the x-ray screen and my stuff will sit in limbo inside the x-ray conveyor. I usually travel with two laptop computers, each of which are necessary because they serve specific purposes.  On a recent trip, I was cramming them into my carry on bag when a TSA agent with a dark coffee stain on his white uniform shirt who looked like Chris Farley playing a disheveled character on a Saturday Night Live skit piped up and asked me why I needed to travel with two computers.  I bit what was left of my tongue and chose my words carefully.  I just said I needed them for my work and asked him if he had more than one uniform shirt.  He answered "yes, but I don't bring them both to work" as he shrugged his shoulders.  I pointed to the stain on his shirt and replied "well maybe you should".  I wasn't sure if he was more embarrassed by my comment or by the fact that his fellow TSA agent laughed out loud and gave me a high five.

Once I arrive at my destination, my time is pretty much controlled by my clients' agenda.  When I land and get back to my car, I feel free again.  I'm not complaining here.  I feel fortunate to have a job - especially in these days of hope and change.  Honestly, I think my line of work is far better than driving an hour to and from a job to do the same thing day in and day out for years on end.  My projects change, making my work dynamic.  Again I digress...

When I'm on the bike, it's like time stops.  Well, it doesn't just doesn't matter.  I can go as fast as I feel like risking or as slow as I feel like tolerating.  It took me a few days on my last trip to catch on to this.  I was pretty focused on getting to Seattle on schedule.  Once I hit Canada on day three of the Alaska trip, I plan to dial it down, ignore the odometer, and take it all in.

As I write this, I'm sitting in DFW Airport having just passed though the TSA screening and dealing with the Thanksgiving holiday rookie traveler rush.  Today more than ever I'm counting the days until I cross the Canadian border, ignore that odometer, and begin heading northwest.