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Dirty Girl is back in the Saddle again!

Yes, DirtyGirl is still here... thank you to the readers who have emailed to ask! Although 'here' is a different place, geographically speaking, I am still 'here' with this website.

In 2011 I moved across Canada, from Ontario to BC. Actually, I've moved a lot since starting this website. When I started DirtyGirl Motor Racing in 2004, I lived in Toronto, a city I've been departing by degrees ever since, experimenting with smaller cities and rural living. I grew up as a city-slicker, but I've found I like living outside the urban environment. So now I'm living on an island, and while not exactly rural, it's somewhat remote and quite unlike my urban past.

the heading out for a ride view
This is the view up my driveway, when I head out for a ride

Amongst the many differences, there are far fewer km's of roads, no highways or traffic lights (-!!-), and the deer outnumber the cars. Just about exactly opposite to where I learned to ride, where there were about 3 million cars, roughly the same number of traffic lights, and deer were so rare you could ride for years without seeing one on the road. So I've had exciting new learning opportunities, coping with very different road conditions and hazards. I hesitate to describe deer as traffic hazards, since they behave so unlike traffic, but they are potentially hazardous on the roadway. Learning to ride in a big city I was so accustomed to cars as sources of danger, I failed to appreciate the many ways in which they are predictable. They may turn left or right without warning, but they remain firmly on the road surface – leaping isn't something cars do, not even taxis. Bicycle couriers disregard the laws of gravity, but even they don't leap about with the energy and agility of deer.

Cars are also easy to see, they have lights, reflectors, shiny paint and they are pretty conspicuous, even in poor visibility conditions – often more so than larger vehicles. Car drivers may complain that they can't see motorcyclists, but how often do you hear motorcyclists complaining that they can't see cars? Cars are pretty visible road users, especially when compared to deer. Deer have no headlights, tail lights or turn signals. They do have reflectors, after a fashion – you often see their eyes first when you spot them on the road at dusk, but deer would benefit greatly from some high-vis colours, reflective stripes, or maybe some solar powered LED's on their ears and tails.

I know lots of Toronto motorcyclists (and riders from other cities) who complain that drivers ignore the rules of the road. I did too – particularly about drivers who didn't look when changing lanes. But to be fair, even the most ignorant city driver has a better grasp of road etiquette than deer do. Deer can be using any lane, at any time, in any direction. City-slicker motorcyclists often complain about cars that enter the roadway without observing traffic first, but at least cars pull out of driveways and alleys, deer leap out of ditches, over fences and generally enter the roadway in the most unexpected ways – I wish they would honk to warn you, but it turns out that while geese honk, deer don't.

Road hazards are not the only new thing to get used to, the roads themselves are different. Narrow, blind, twisty and hilly – which all sounds good; everything a thrill seeking motorcyclist could want. There are no shoulders, no run off room, and immediately next to the roadway you can usually find a very solid tree trunk. This would be wonderful if you wanted to tie up a boat, but not so charming in close proximity to 60 km/h. So both the road hazards and the roadways are new learning experiences for a city-trained rider. Even after 20 years of riding, there are still lots of things for me to learn – that one of the many reasons to love motorcycling actually, the opportunity to learn new things.

[reminder to self: every ride, when you come home and shut your bike off, ask yourself "what did I learn today?"]

blind curves
Blind corners add to the thrill of local riding

giant banana slug on Salt Spring island
The giant banana slug is one of the islands exotic creatures, and this one has decorated itself with pine needles (look closely at the tail end on the right side of the picture).

Local drivers are different than the Toronto drivers too; between patient dawdlers and lost tourists, the average road user is often travelling well below the posted speed limit. While there are no traffic lights on the island, there are radar traps for speeders, so the drivers who want to go faster usually mind their manners around parks and school zones. The nearly year-round motorcycling season means that car drivers have no 'off season' in which to forget that motorcycles are road users too, so I find that drivers tend to be cooperative and sensible. Neither of those adjectives would apply very accurately to the drivers I dodged while learning to ride in Toronto.

So much has changed in my life, but some things remain the same. I moved my beloved 500 Vulcan out west with me, and although it suffered some cosmetic damage in transit, it's running as well as always. It's a bit like starting over; my first bike-love and I are still together but it's an only-bike again, and I'm a one-bike rider once more. We're enjoying quality together time on the twisty roads, just like the old days... It's good to be back in the saddle again!

Slugs are also the mascot for a local road safety campaign, 'Slow down, it's Salt Spring' - read more:
YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztdHRNf1i98
Facebook http://www.facebook.com/pages/Slow-Down-Its-Salt-Spring/311299012283005
Local press coverage http://saltyfishbowl.com/out-with-it-with-dave-campbell/out-with-it-by-dave-campbell-16

About Navigation

Ok, I confess, I'm a really bad navigator. Anyone who's ever gone riding with me will likely tell you exactly the same thing... DirtyGirl can't navigate. People who don't want to wander aimlessly when they go out riding don't follow me more than once. Usually they are happy to have me trail along behind, I'm a great tail-rider… but when the map comes out, no one wants to hear from me. Even in the years I worked with the test-rides, and we rode the same route over and over again, my co-workers were amazed that I could still find a way to make a wrong turn. I'm sure when I started riding on the race track, people assumed it was simply because I got lost everywhere else. And it was much harder to get lost on the racetrack, but I did learn that it's quite possible to remain on the pavement, but be so far off the racing line as to feel as if you were lost.

Anyway, let's just accept that I'm navigationally challenged… turns out, living on an island is a good way to cope with that! It's perfect for riders who tend to wander, provided the size of your island and your fuel range are reasonably compatible, you're laughing! Which probably means this only applies to a few islands… but anyway, navigating on this island requires just a few simple tricks. Simple, even for the non-map-readers and the compass-confused. Roads that go up hill eventually end in steep, narrow dead-ends. Roads that go downhill eventually end near (or in) the water. There are only three exceptions to the dead-ends rule, the ferry terminals. They are pretty easy to spot road features, and they are on main roads, so you're not really lost if you're there. Provided you don't accidentally drive onto a ferry, all other navigational errors are self-correcting by one of the two types of dead-ends. So if you manage not to get stuck trying to u-turn on a mountain peak and to avoid riding out into the ocean, you will inevitably, eventually, find yourself on a main road you recognize.

This is a blind approach to an intersection... quite unlike a city roadway!

Ocean is beautiful landscape, but for motorcyclists, it's just a U-turn
Taking care to U-turn before you ride into the water is as easy-to-remember navigational trick for islands

Here's another trick for navigating on Salt Spring, just in case you're ever riding out here! – this is like "Advanced Island Navigation for Dummies" – watch for the signs that say 'NO EXIT' (those are roads that end in a u-turn) some of those are nice roads, but if you're already lost or getting low on gas, they won't help.

So now when I head out for a ride, I don't need a plan, I can just wander wherever. As long as I avoid the ferry, the water and the 'No Exit' roads, I'll find my way home again before I run out of gas.

At least it's worked out so far – I have yet to get so badly lost as to exceed my fuel range. Fortunately the gas stations are located in Ganges, around the middle of the island, so you're never more than half an island away from gas. If you wander around roads in Ontario for long enough, you'll find a sign directing you to Toronto. In a similar fashion, if you wander around Salt Spring long enough, you'll find a sign pointing you to Ganges. That may be the only point of similarity between the sprawling metropolis of Toronto and the seaside village of Ganges!

Riding on Salt Spring is full of charming new challenges, awesomely twisty roads, and no particular need to worry about getting lost. You can enjoy the thrill of the curves, the adrenaline of deer-spotting and blind corners with few cars to distract you… it's not the supervised, marshalled thrill of the racetrack, but it's still pretty exciting. Even after many years of motorcycling a simple change in road environment can offer a host of new things for me to learn about, which is why I'm so glad to be 'back in the saddle again'.

Happy Spring everyone, please ride safe!

Andrea, AKA DirtyGirl

Canadian flag waiving near the shore on Salt Spring Island
The intertidal zone is a great place to walk; nice to see a Canadian flag waiving too!

Split rail fence along a hiking trail on Salt Spring Island
Split rail fence through the woods, along a hiking trail
Salt Spring Island BC Canada

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