Uncle Paul - 6,101 miles, 248 hours
I have something I'd like to get off my chest that I think you might be able to relate to: riding a Harley in the rain might just be one of the dumbest things I've ever done. It's been raining in Seattle for three days now and each day, three times a day, I don rain gear and my water logged helmet to make a journey across town that could take anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour. Sometimes it rains a little, sometimes it rains a lot. But regardless of the amount, my brown leather boots are sure to be 10 shades darker than when I started, and my hands always seem as if I just fell asleep in the bath tub for an hour.
One recent trip made me feel particularly foolish. I left work and as usual my first step is to hop on the highway so I made the left turn for the on-ramp. This entrance to the highway is part of a cloverleaf interchange, and consequently is a great big turn that happens to be uphill (because you know... Seattle). I get in line and things are moving incredibly slow due to the rain. It's that awkward pace we all come to dread as riders where we can't fully get into gear because that's too much speed, but we can't entirely engage the clutch because then we won't go anywhere. It's the delicate balance of both hands working in complete unison to deliver just the perfect amount of speed, but in reality, it's just a major pain in the ass.
As my hands are dancing between the gas, the brake, and the clutch, I notice that my visor is beginning to fog because there's no longer enough cold air moving through my helmet at this speed. What begins as a slight buildup of moisture slowly turns into a fairly substantial obstruction of vision. As I can't free up my hands from below to open up the visor or clean it, I eventually get to the point where it is so bad that all I can see are feint lights that get marginally brighter each time the car in front of me starts to brake. So as to not hurt anyone or myself, I decide to come to a complete stop on the on-ramp. As I take the time to get into neutral and open up the visor now that I can release the clutch, I take in my surroundings for a moment. It's as if I come out of my body and begin to look at myself from a bird's eye view. Here's a guy, already soaking wet, sitting stopped in the pouring rain, holding up one of the busiest on-ramps in Seattle. What an idiot.
Aside from making me feel like a dumbass, I've come to find that commuting in the rain is also incredibly dangerous (Mom, you can skip reading this paragraph). It's one thing to rip through a quick rain wall while on the flat and ever predictable interstates in rural America, but boy is it an entirely different ball game when you get steady rain in the city. As you know, riding in the city already requires an incredible amount of attention to detail and split second decision making. Add to this increased stopping distance, fishtails, decreased visibility, oil slicks, and other drivers now acting a fool, and you likely have yourself the worst odds you can imagine on the road. I've done a fair amount of dangerous stuff in my life, and I'm starting to think this takes the cake.
So, with every possible sign pointing towards leave the bike at home and take the bus, I continue to wake up each morning, put on my increasingly wet riding gear, and head out into the rain. This behavior has gotten me thinking quite a bit about what drives us to do things on a daily basis. In particular, what is it about those things that seem foolish, risky, unpredictable, or sometimes dangerous, and what draws some of us even closer toward them?
I think the desire to persevere - and do that which everyone insists you shouldn't or can't - comes in the form of some type of potential outcome that may only be achieved through difficulty. When I think about what I set out to do on this trip, one aspect of it was to strip life down, put all I need on the back of my bike, and just ride. I've been very lucky to be blessed with a life where I could have flown between every city and stayed in a hotel everywhere, but instead I wanted to push myself to truly understand what it is I need to live a fulfilling life. The bike has served as a great vehicle to figuring all that out, but it only works if I choose to ride the damn thing. No matter what the circumstances may be.
When I look at Treehouse, the organization I'm currently supporting in Seattle, they have an incredible story of resilience and determination. Five years ago they saw the graduation rate of foster care youth in Seattle decrease to under 50%, even with all the work they'd been putting in to support the community of foster children. Given this result, they decided not to back down and simply maintain or lower their standards for supporting the community, but instead to raise them higher than ever before. They decided to strive for graduation equity between foster care youth and their peers in Seattle within 5 years, bringing it up to 80%.
Their solution for this was to start the Grad Success program, where they would plan to work with foster care youth on their future by going out into the community, instead of having the students come to the organization. It would require them to go from programs that took place completely in-house at Treehouse offices, to having a mobile workforce that would go out into the city to work with students one-on-one. I can only imagine the amount of feedback they received indicating that it was not possible, or that given the numbers were trending downward, there was no way it could be done in the desired timeframe. Over the next 5 years they hunkered down, did everything they knew they could regardless of what others thought, and knocked their goal out of the park. There's now 89% of foster care youth in Seattle graduating from high school.
On paper, the idea of setting goals and working hard to achieve them seems so elementary and obvious. The only problem is that on paper goals can easily seem too risky, foolish, or unattainable to ever be pursued.
Outright, riding my motorcycle in the rain may have no value other than trying to get hurt. That's what the paper says, but I've come to find there's only one way to actually find out.
Bummed I can't join the team this weekend up in Madison for the game, but give my best to Babes, Kevin, and the whole gang.