Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Since I failed the motorcycle course, I decided to get my learner’s under my dad’s supervision. Unfortunately, when my new motorcycle rolled off the ramp, my brain decided to mass delete every useful memory from the motorcycle course. All I could recall was the guy that rode into the hay barrier and how the nice bearded man had to help me hold my bike up when I walked it. So we decided to practice a bit on the grass, since I didn’t even have a real helmet yet and had to use a bicycle one.

Initially, it was magnificent. It was like the bike was made for me. I felt like Iron Man—part woman, part machine, connected through our shared power. I could walk it—alone! 

Then, I rode it. Very slowly, very wobbly, but I mounted the bike and we worked together—human and machine—to move forward. Turns were a bit difficult, but I put my feet down and sort of hopped, and then the bike understood what I wanted from it.

Then I toppled. When I righted it, the left handbrake hung limp and useless.

I’d killed it.

So the bike expedition was put on hold for a bit while Dad figured out how to find the right parts. I say parts because he ordered several handbrake levers—an act that I think suggests a lack of confidence in my riding abilities.

In the meanwhile, I got myself a helmet. I picked all white so I’d look like the Stig from Top Gear (the effect is ruined by my indigo riding jacket). The professional fitting me squeezed an extra small over my noggin and said it fit, even though it made my cheeks do this:

But I guess it’s better to squeeze your cheeks than to flop around on your head when you fall.

So at long last, we took the bike out for riding on real roads.

My biggest problem, other than an awkward waddling start, is shifting gears. I’m fine shifting up from 1st gear, but then I hit a corner, go back down to a mystery gear, and I’m lost. The bike protests loudly and I frantically soar through the gears while it groans and wails beneath me and my dad grows more distant. This tends to happen when a car is behind us. On clear, empty roads I roll through the gears and keep up with Dad like I rode for years.

I ambled after Dad like a mentally unstable duckling, and he played the part of momma duck and waited for me to sort things out before taking off into the wild again.

After several weeks of this, I was comfortable leaving our neighborhood. I did not realize how frightening the world gets when you leave 30 mph behind.

First are the bugs. I don’t mind bugs, really, but imagine if a firefly could go 60 mph. It’s like a squishy bullet that sprays neon. The butterflies are the worst. I see them meandering on heavily forested roads, or next to a meadow. They flutter in their serene world, probably giddy because their bellies are full of pollen. They’re the reason flowers grow, the reason I can appreciate the meadow of tulips I’m riding past.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the faceshield on my helmet wasn’t so clean. Air creeps in the bottom, too, to further fool me into thinking it’s not down. So I see the butterfly floating by and want to take evasive action into a ditch to avoid eating it. Even when I find out the visor is on, it’s still disconcerting because all of a sudden a crippled butterfly is staring at me accusingly.

Then I keep getting intimate with the wildlife displayed on the sides of the roads. You people with walls around you when you drive don’t have to stare down a recently deceased raccoon. I’m closer to the ground and nothing separates me and the furry, bloody, squirrel.

Even with all the exciting things I was experiencing, the greatest I encountered at a gas station. Dad was pumping his bike while I idled on mine, watching the intersection out of boredom. Out of nowhere an enormous man in a leather vest with giant sunglasses and billowing golden hair rides into view.

I remembered that Dad said it is biker code to wave to every biker you pass. Uncertain, I raised a hand at the man.

He granted me a deep nod and biked on, hair flapping in the wind.

He acknowledged me. The large man on the oversized Harley acknowledged me because I was now a part of his guild, or tribe, or club or whatever. But we shared a common bond, and I was one of his people. Was I happy? Yes. I never knew I wanted to be one of his people, but now I knew there was something missing all along. I think everyone secretly wants to get acknowledged by the large man on the loud bike, but won’t know it until he picks them out of a crowd (or gas station) and tells them their special by nodding (deeply!) at them.

So if you see Dad and I on the road, riding the wind, wave at us and share the feeling! But we won’t see you, because you’re in a car.