Fear kept me from riding motorcycles and finding one of the most beautiful things life has to offer. Some background here may help. I have been in the fire service for fourteen years now and as a paramedic for twelve. In that time, I’ve seen and treated the sundry horrors that acquaint themselves with public safety workers. Among the most consistently awful have been motorcycle crashes. Even the simplest of falls have given way at least to broken ribs and shredded skin. Aptly, they are referred to as “donor-cycles” by the cynical and for many years I counted myself among them.
It had to happen while memorializing a dear relative who died amidst horrific circumstances from domestic violence, that some cousins of mine spoke the deftly-timed words, “You should get a bike.” It was in relation to the glee they had while riding the outlands of California; dirt bike territory. Their words were both a challenge (there were three of them encircling me) and aptly timed because it was about then that I had felt the deep loss of not only another immeasurably adored family member, but also something of the glee I once had in the unknown and wild places of my life.
Seeking a true and honorable embodiment of the virtues of my profession (I read a lot of Morte d’Arthur as a kid), I eschewed all the dangerous things likely to rob my loved ones and myself of years of life, quality of teeth or functioning limbs. I belted myself and my family in, I wore helmets, I exorcised second-hand smoke, scoffed at drinking coffee everyday (Doctor Recommended) and emptied the lint out of the dryer obsessively (IT’S DYNAMITE IN YOUR HOME!). A poster child for CDC and WHO best practice pamphlets, I had married a woman who cultivated a passion in public health – staunchly stemming the tide of under-age smoking in a rural Oregon school district. We shooed away risk factors in ours and our children’s lives with a zeal reserved for fire-brand preachers. You could not find a better fireman to give the talk to the kids at school.
My life was not always this careful, this aware of its mortality. I taught karate once upon a time, I was a bouncer in a bar in downtown Missoula, I clung to the back of a buddy’s motorcycle without helmet, without even considering one. My mom is most proud of the change, I’m sure. While I’m not advocating the recklessness or willful disregard for safety devices, the total sum of them had created a hyper-sensitivity to threats and danger. Became numb to the chronic low-dose, histamine response of adult responsible behavior (aka ARB syndrome – alert your friends, say something, BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE).
When my cousins’ suggestion touched my ears, something inserted itself into my consciousness. Like a break-in team from Inception, I now held an idea that would change my life forever (Turns out I wasn’t waiting on a train but on a motorcycle – SEQUEL or REBOOT! (excuse the double parentheses but it has been, what 6 years since Inception, MORE than enough time for a reboot to be considered in Hollywood’s ridiculous sense of time – another post, someday)). I had to find out if what they were talking about was really that much fun and if it was worth the risks.
I had already anticipated the counter-argument from my wife, who incidentally, had taken not one but two, week-long trips on the back of a BMW F650GS Dakar version with her father at ages 18 and 28. We had life insurance, a will and a trust in place, I would argue. Of course I would take the safety class required by the state. On it went. But like a great matador-ess, she simply parried my pre-emptive presumption of her supposed concerns. “I think you should do it – why did you think I wouldn’t want you to?” I had no response. She simply trusted my judgment and my capacity to make good decisions at speed.
The rest, then, is history. I took the class and acquired my endorsement (a week before I had treated a woman hit broadside on her Harley as she’d left the dealer, amputating her lower leg – some would call that an omen, it merely crystallized my resolve, I had counted the cost.) I found a deal on some good gear – I prioritized that over the quality of my bike. Got ripped off in a deal for my first bike but it was still well within my cheap price range. Spent double the amount I paid for the bike in repairs and maintenance over the first three years getting it up and running. Have since taken more classes on how to ride on the road skillfully and aware.
You could argue this is the worst time in the history of driving, to learn something as crazy as riding a bike in traffic. There are more people on their phones than ever, while driving. I should know – I respond to their accidents all the time. More drivers, driving faster than ever, road rage as common as a personality trait. Still, I feel something when I ride that I don’t feel when I drive. It wouldn’t matter if I were in a Ferrari either (as awesome as that would be). When I drive, I feel like I’m in something like this:
But when I ride, even on my jalopy, about as uncool and out-dated as can be but still a motorcycle and NOT A MOPED OR SCOOTER; I transcend the road, the space that I travel. A dog with his head out the window, a raptor in flight, a cheetah on the run. A motorcyclist. If you can, physically, financially, intelligently commit to it, riding a motorcycle is a reward with benefits that linger, warming you through the cold and dreary days.
Someday, I may leave this earth because of motorcycling – I have to acknowledge that. But there are worse ways to go and I have seen many take those roads. Alone in a nursing home riddled with dementia. Coughing out the last of your breath from ravaging lung cancer. Fatally in the crosswalk –obeying all the laws and best practices– by a hit and run driver. I have tried to put my family in the best hands I can if I happen to go sooner that I had imagined. I’ve looked deeply into as many possibilities and consequences as I can fathom. It may not be enough. Still, I refuse to live this life, hedging my bets ad nauseum, while waiting for my last days. The comedian quips, “Don’t worry about your health, you’ll never get out of life, alive.”
I do worry, still.
Also, I ride.