Miles By Motorcycle
established 11 years ago


Ian had moved away. Each year he would say, "I'll ship my bike out and we'll do our trip to the Gap again." Each year it wouldn't happen. So, eventually, I decided to guilt him into it by buying a guest bike which we affectionately called "Ian's bike'.

I picked up a relatively inexpensive '99 R1100S with less than 10,000 miles on it, but I had made a serious error. I failed to notice that the bike had been badly wrecked and not put back together correctly. It was a stupid out of character mistake. Instead of doing the sane thing and walking away from it, I decided to take this mistake and make it right no matter how much effort it might take. I am not afraid of work but sometiimes I wonder if that's not such a good thing as I tend not to make things easy on myself. Laziness can be a virtue, especially in programmers.

The front frame was broken so much of the bike needed to be disassembled. The further I got into it, the more problems I found. The project ended up being so much larger than I could possibly have imagined. Somehow giving up was not an option. With some significant help, I managed to get it all done just in time for Ian to fly out and ride it down to the Gap in 2006. It's been a phenomenally reliable guest bike ever since. I was out on it day before yesterday coaching Yun how to ride with passengers.

One would think things are going well for me.

I don't know why, but this has been a very rough year for me. There's no war to fight. There have been no huge battles. I'm not spending days on end trying to figure out how to avert another asymmetrical disaster. The "drop everything there's another life threatening event" calls have largely subsided. It's been a long time since I've stood at the edge of the abyss wondering how I was going to save the day.

But it's been a very dark year. Maybe there have been too many endings. The huge things all resolved in 2009. The big things have been resolving since then. The very last vestiges of a wrecked past have been resolved. My business partner and I finally accepted that our little business had failed after 14 years. He went off and got full time employment. I guess after that happened I've felt a little lost. What do I do now? There were no big problems for me to solve. I would feel, "If I'm not solving a big problem for someone, what's the point?" I've never been any good at living for myself, I guess. I spun my wheels for a few months taking the largest break from writing software that I probably ever have. I had talked about writing a book and tried a few times. I had talked about working on the website or taking another big trip. I feared having to get a regular job. I have a lot of health problems so regular "jobs" with fixed schedules are hard. Even trips down to Deal's Gap did less for me than they had in previous years.

There were a few precious fleeting moments of bliss along the way; glimpses into a life without the need of sacifice and service. But mostly it's been pretty dark. I suffer the white knight badly and like a soldier in peacetime who seeks war because it's the only thing he knows, I keep looking for ways to be good for others as if it somehow justifies my own existence, or maybe excuses it. Having spent the majority of my life as a slave to other peoples problems, I'm finding it extremely challenging to live without that sense of obligation and duty. And when the stressful moments happen, we all tend to run back to the familiar even if we are entirely aware that it's happening, slaves to our own psychology. I see it in myself and I am growing to hate it. It's been powerful seeing it in others.

As is the case with so many, I keep asking myself what I would like to do. The money I've accumulated over the years is draining quickly. I feel the pressure to go join a startup, build a new business or maybe even go back to doing military contracting, a prospect that just terrifies me. It's such a miserable existence. At some point, I'll need to earn a living again and this dark moment of relative freedom will be over.

But these are all toxic beliefs. There are so many more options available to me if only I can get out of my head long enough to see them.

Over the summer, I went on a few rides. Miles By Motorcycle is getting slighly more popular. The group of riders who get together has been growing. There have been times where we've even had 7 peope on 5 bikes. Scheduling rides like that takes effort. Getting everyone to the same place at the same time is challenging. Someone is always late, Duncan, unless he's not. Someone else always says they can't make it until they can, Josh. It's been striking how often I, or even someone else, would say, "If only we had that thing I/Yermo was talking about this XYZ things would have been so much better." It's gotten to be a thing and is mentioned on every ride now.

So in late July something changed. One day I just got up, sat down at the computer, and started designing, in earnest, the software I had been talking about since before I got back from my trip. I have been working on it like a madman ever since. It's not likely to ever make me any money and it's a huge amount of work, but for the first time in ages I'm motivated. I can't wait to get this stuff done and get my friends to use it. If I can get others to use it that would be even better.

I wonder why this appeals to me so much. I suspect it has to do with the fact that I've found something I can do for myself that is "for others". If it's just me, I never get excited about it. If it's some faceless corporation, I'm even less enthused. But if it's for people I know or better yet care about, then I can get motivated. I get a real kick out of the idea that people I value might use what I'm building. I keep thinking of everyone I know, especially the non-motorcyclists. Can I build something that motorcyclists and non-motorcyclists will find interesting in the way so many people found the blog interesting?

"So Yermo, what are you building?" you might ask.

I am building:

A social network for the lucky few who travel by motorcycle and the ones left behind who care about them.

Or as we've been joking, "a social network for us few lucky bastards who get to ride and you poor fuckers we've left behind."

The conversations always go the same way:

"Dude, do you know any good roads?"

"Why yes, route 25 North, Falls Road, North of Baltimore, take it North about 15 miles to Gunpowder Road, and take a right. Awesome road. There's a neat old mill up there too."

Wouldn't it be cool if I could say, "Yea, Falls Roads. If you don't remember, find me on Miles-By-Motorcycle. There's a map of it and other great roads around here in my profile."

So you go and you look at the road and you decide.

"Dude! Let's go for a ride!"

"Ok, so where do you want to go?"

"On that road, you know, the one we were talking about. What was it again?"

"When, where do we meet, where will be go, will anyone meet us along the way?"

Wouldn't it be cool if you could go on Miles-By-Motorcycle and create a "Group Ride", a.k.a. an event. You get a map. You can draw out the route. Places to stop. Where and when we'll meet. The area we're likely to be in for lunch. Etc. It would be cool if you could then invite people to join you.

Then, on the day of the ride, you'll have an app on your smartphone that you as ride organizer can use to alert everyone when you've arrived at the meeting point. If someone is late, Josh or Duncan, you'll be able to mark a point on the map where we can meet up. That way everyone who is on time can get to riding but everyone who's late can stil participate.

As you go on your ride and you decide an hour out, we'll stop for coffee at this Starbucks, you'll be able to tag it with an ETA so anyone else in the group who's running late or maybe, if it's a public ride, others who might only be able to join up for part of it, can know to meet you there.

"Yun, can you send me those photos or videos you never will?"

As the day progresses, people take photos. The shoot video. Wouldn't it be cool if all the photos, check ins, geo-tags, and status updates, were put in a central place on the same page where the group ride was created? These would be visible on a map or as a news feed. Those we leave behind and even those who might want to join up with us can follow along.

I figure with a system like this and everyone's busy schedules, we'd get more people in on more rides with less stress and less time commitment.

As we come on great roads, like the ones Yun, Rob, Milner and I have been riding lately, we can tag them. Davis Mill Road out near Gaitherburg, a wicked road.

So you're out on a ride.

"Dude, where should we go next!"

If you happen to be up near Thurmont, you might like Cold Spring Road over the border in PA. Wouldn't it be cool if you could do a search on your smartphone, "Within 50 miles of this location, what are the places/roads/stops/etc that Yermo really likes? Or maybe that any of my friends like? Or that anyone in this group likes?" You'll get a list of previous group rides, points of interest, routes, etc so we can all share the great roads and places. This would have the effect that we can all spend less time on roads that suck.

Now imagine you're scheduling a tour across the country and how many more interesting things you might be able to get in on ... it was a huge problem on my tour. "Dude, you should've gone to XYZ awesome thing 200 miles ago." Wouldn't it be extremely cool if you poor fuckers left behind could tag suggestions on the map /BEFORE/ someone gets there?

I have a huge number of other ideas too numerous to go into here, but I wanted to share a little bit about what I'm working on.

The whole motivation behind what I'm building is to get us together riding more. I hope I can get it done. It's a huge amount of work, much more than I was expecting.

I should have the foundation work ready to show in December. The first versions of the maps on the website sometime in January. It'll take me another two months probably to get a basic smart phone app done. There will be compromises and, as is typical of these kinds of things, it'll never be done.

As I make progress, I hope to write more technical articles over at my new blogA Software Guy.

Obviously, all this work could be applied to other domains outside of the motorcycling world. When I'm finished it'll be a competent mobile/geo-aware social network platform that will integrate with Facebook, Twitter and others. I've even built a plugin system for it and have a web API. Yea, nuts. I'm not afraid of work.

I even have a few ideas on how to make some money with this, but if I do I want to be extremely careful to do it in such a way that's cool and helpful. More on that another time.

I'm hoping that I can bring the tenacity I demonstrated with the R1100S project to this one. How cool would it be to use a Miles-By-Motorcycle app while out on a ride on the 'S?


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