Say what?

By Terry Roorda

My ears are ringing. I like to think it’s because people are talking about me, but after better than a week of persistent white noise pervading my skull I’m beginning to suspect otherwise. Nobody can gossip that long, not even about me.

No, the likelier explanation of the phenomenon called “tinnitus” (from the ancient Greek word meaning, “Somebody answer the damn phone!”) is hearing loss, and that loss could come from any number of causes including aging, but fortunately I’m in denial about that possibility, so I can simply deny it. Having eliminated that candidate I’m basically left with exposure to loud noise as the likeliest of the remaining explanations, and all things considered, the source of that noise in my case is my years in the wind.

Wind noise on a motorcycle as a debilitating factor is something that for a good many years never even occurred to me, but when it finally did, it did so with a vengeance. That was nine years ago when I spent a day riding a Low Rider from Dillon, Colorado, to Wendover, Nevada—a distance of some 720 miles—wearing a Bieffe half-shell helmet I’d just bought for about fifty bucks. The straps on the Bieffe were cleverly designed to take the sound of the onrushing wind and change it in both quality and intensity to something akin to that of a hurricane blowing through the rigging of a tall ship. When I got off the bike that evening, my ears were ringing like a bastard. And they were still ringing like a bastard when I awoke the next morning. (Luckily I was completely done in by that day in the saddle, otherwise it would have kept me awake all night.)

This was cause for some alarm, but I figured it would pass soon enough since I had a few days of light duty, riding no more than 20 or 30 miles each day. Never mind that where I was riding to and from was the Salt Flats to cover Bonneville Speed Week. The sonic blast of LSR machines launching down the salt—even from right at the starting line where I was stationed—was a relative calm after my hours with the Bieffe.

I stopped using that helmet except on bikes with full windscreens, where it worked just fine, until, that is, last year when I wore it on an Electra Glide down to LA and there picked up the new Cross Bones for a 340-mile ride out to the Kingman, Arizona, to cover the Laughlin River Run. I’d pretty much repressed the memory of the Wendover horror by then, but within the first few miles of freeway riding on the Cross Bones I recognized that ominous hurricane roar and said, “Uh oh.” I had to say it real loud to hear myself. I was so freaked out by the prospect of another bout of extreme tinnitus that I stopped and started to customize the straps on the helmet in an effort to reduce the racket. I wrapped electrical tape around the openings between the straps, and even cut off a T-shirt sleeve to wear as a band around my ears like a skier, which is actually a pretty good look for me.

What a waste of time. By the time I hit Kingman, my head was buzzing like it was stuck in a hive. I thereupon took drastic measures, heading over to Mother Road Harley-Davidson and going on a shopping spree. First I bought a standard 3/4-shell helmet—a Fulmer bucket that fit snugly to my cheeks—and then I went outside to where a guy was installing Big Ear custom ear plugs, and had him perform the weird procedure on me that resulted in a pair of personalized plastic ear castings.

That did the trick, and when I left Mother Road I was riding in the proverbial cone of silence. It was so quiet, in fact, that all I could hear was the ringing in my ears. No wind noise, no motor noise, no annoying traffic sounds like horns and sirens. I felt like I was underwater, and I felt like a geek when I was installing the things at gas stops but that seemed like a small price to pay to avert further damage to my poor suffering cochleae.

Naturally, when the memory of why I’d gotten the ear plugs faded, the old habits returned to some extent. I became less than religious about sticking them in, figuring just using them on long rides was probably all the prophylaxis required, and then I started forgetting them on long rides. Since the demise of the Bieffe, which was unceremoniously stuffed in a dumpster in Kingman, I haven’t had a similar episode of screaming tinnitus, but now with the recent unexplained onset of the annoyance, I’m coming to realize that, even so, there’s been a slow, insidious cumulative effect of frequent exposure to road noise and it’s coming home to roost in my noggin.

I think I may need to grow up while I grow old. I think I’ll start wearing my ear plugs. I’m also thinking about trying out this stuff called “dental floss.”

It’s all right here in the diaries.

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