Tuesday, June 22, 2021
On the Back of a Harley-Random Scary Stuff and a Little Zen
Friday, June 11, 2021


 The mountain goat launched itself like a projectile, hurling in crazy abandon off the rock wall and directly in front of my Harley. His hooves cleared my face by a couple of inches. Time collapsed.

 I hit the brakes and managed to steady the horrifying fish tailing. In shock, my heart was trying to restart, my blood had drained to parts un-charted leaving me access to only three words.

 If you ride, you know the words.  My heartbeat found its groove 20 minutes later. I was alive and upright. I didn’t even know I could slam everything down to a stop that quickly. I had never had to. Everything I knew to do automatically came together in a surreal blur of action controlled by something outside of me.  

 One’s ability to do the dance between relaxed and hypervigilant on the back of a motorcycle is an imperative. Many roads will hurt you, maim you, kill you if you do not respect the diversity, the mysteries around the next corner and own up to your own skill level or vulnerability.

 Road surfaces are as varied as toilet paper around the world.  The distinctions always obvious and sometimes worthy of comment.

Rocks lie on the roads, often on a blind corner like saboteurs.

 “HA! Dodge this you biker freak!”  Wet leaves camouflaged as shadows lie in wait like Mother Nature’s slip ‘n slides, testing one’s wit…Brake…don’t brake…let off the gas…power through…scream…don’t scream. 

 Somewhere in Detroit but replicated all over the country, including Idaho, the horror stories of the pothole and the 18-wheeler.

 Potholes the size of condominiums promise to suck you in the next time a multi-wheeler blows by sending an inflexible wall of wind—WHACK!  Bracing, chin turned down and away, one is reminded of the infinite possibilities of a horrible death.  Inches away from too many wheels rolling by at 70 mph at eye level, said condo-sized pits and the driver ahead who keeps you trapped between 2 huge trucks…sheets of water disappearing all vision, the dizziness from flexing between hyperventilation and holding one’s breath…you get the picture.  Bite guards are recommended here.  

 Most road surfaces are more benign, pebbly to bumpy, capable of rearranging one’s horizon somewhere between slightly fuzzy to two or three of everything. Generally, the sweet spot is somewhere between the horizontal lines.

 There are rituals. I learned, early on, that certain ways of being cool on the road were not shared by bikers across the board. But that gesture of comradery--“Hey, “you’re badass too” or “We could become best friends, we’d…I don’t know…go on vacation together”--happened in that one, slick hand gesture shared upon crossing paths at 70 or 80 mph. The wave.

 When I first began riding my own Harley, I truly wanted to participate in this ritual but was unable to remove my left hand, now petrified to the clutch. I’d, instead, throw my head up…in a reverse nod, “Hey”, I see you but I’m busy right now’ kind of spasmed jerk. Eventually, I too could throw a casual nonchalant, suave, guy/man salute free of desperation.

 The wave is critical here.  No Jackie-O, prom queen waves.  Male or female, the rider had to send a message of “I’m cool. I honor your coolness.”  Essence is critical and captured in a nano-second of the exchange

 Accessorizing and personalizing is an altogether imperative part of owning a motorcycle. For some, less is more and for most, more is more.  More power, more pipes, more noise, more studs, more fringe, more chrome, more leather, more attitude, more rumble….

 Although I was partially guilty of the more is more, my reasons felt more enlightened, like my loud trucker air horns that (although chromed) actually worked, even alarmed.

I hated and respected loud pipes. I didn’t have them but often the unique intention of being heard so as to prevent premature death is reason enough. I wore a chromed helmet that would shine and reflect blinding rays of light signaling to all on the road…HEY, There’s a head under here!”

 I pondered affixing a strobe light to the top of my helmet taking all guess work out of being seen. But there were 70 traditional riders in our club…The Hells Rotarians (yep)…Nothing screams macho like ‘Rotarian’. Basically, a group of professionals who showed up as posers…one-off, bad boy wannabes. Do-rags and all. So, no to the strobe.

 Attitude is something to be slipped on like a set of leathers.  Not to be taken lightly, this garment of self-expression can be lifesaving.  What you feel is what is real. Physiology is your leverage to emotional change. Fake it ‘til you make it.

 All those add up to behave and believe a certain way and you become it even for the day. Being a rebel biker in your mind allows you to straddle that thing with confidence. Confidence creates more attitude and soon you are in the success loop of the badass biker. Fortunately, it only takes any one of many near-death experiences, real or imagined, to keep those faux attitudes humbled.

 I noticed, after a few years of riding, my testosterone levels just ‘may’ have been elevated at least on long rides. Did I really wipe my nose with the top of my gloved fist?  Did I really clip a friend on the shoulder with my fist? What happened to hugs? Did I honestly adjust my jock strap after dismount just like the boys? No. But I did spit on the ground once.

 It was after a round trip between Seattle to Boston as a passenger staring at the DOT six inches in front of me.

 That’s when I decided to get my own bike, a Harley Springer Heritage that weighed 750 pounds before luggage and chrome. 1450 cc, rubber mount, fringed bags hanging off every possible bar filled with high heels, sandals and a hair dryer.

I had tank guards that I called roll bars and engine parts I identified as thingies to the annoyance of the male riders. The only way I could lift the bike after a drop was because of said bars that kept the bike from falling flat onto the ground. Harleys don’t have reverse so what with my changes of clothes and face creams, muscling my bike out of a parking space could get a little tippy. But I wanted to be in control of when I stopped and the freedom to decide how fast I took a corner and basically determine life-and-death decisions for myself. After all, the underlying reminder was always ‘It’s not if but when your bike will go down.”

 So, I was knocked unconscious. My last ride ever was on the back of an Ultra Classic.  Not mine. There is a short list of the why and what. The real real is that riding on the back of a motorcycle is just plain dumb. There is NO WAY you can save yourself. No way to hang on. It’s a huge risk.

 The best you can do is wear a full-faced helmet and cover yourself with good leather. Hard to do when it is hot out. What are the chances of hitting the ground with that one part of your body not covered by chaps? Excellent, actually.   

 It was 110 degrees on Highway 21 so I removed my jacket. We were moving so slowly. We were going 35 mph through road construction when I was launched off the bike. One doesn’t just plow into the pavement. One first takes flight. Thirty-five miles per hour doesn’t seem very fast. It is. My full-faced helmet…not cool on a Harley…saved my life.

 Two years of rehab after the crash I was again able to do all the things I loved to do for many years. Now, however, my body is beginning to talk back to me in all those places that made contact with the pavement.

 I wonder if I can serve as a warning to other bikers. I’m thinkin’ not. We’ve all heard hundreds of horror stories on the road and off.  “Oh…you ride motorcycles? Let me tell you about...blah blah.” One story scarier than the last. The irony of my ER visit? While I was laid out on the table at the hospital facing years of physical therapy, my ex sold one of his motorcycles to the ER doctor!

 Just maybe, though…maybe one woman or one non-rider will learn to operate a motorcycle and STAY OFF THE BACK. Typically, the passenger, for all the reasons above, is the one who gets injured or worse.

 Having said all of that, I miss the rides, the rush, the freedom, and the adventure. I actually love to hear the rumble of the bikes as they approach and ride by. I experienced spectacular, bonding, exaggerated horror stories, adventurous trips, adrenalin highs and I would not trade them or the memories.  Except for the last one.

 I had pushed through my fear of learning to ride. I’m proud of that. Fear into power and all of that. Actually, fear is there to protect you from tigers and dumb choices. Learn to ride, practice and ride often enough that skills become automatic. Time in the saddle.

Motorcycle weather is upon us. Idaho is a fabulous place to ride. We see you. We hear you coming. Revving your engines every three seconds at a light is not cool. Like I said, we saw you the first time. Don’t be that guy.

 I saw last summer in downtown Ketchum a guy on a Harley with no helmet wearing flip-flops. He had a lovely young woman riding side saddle behind him, for heck’s sake, also wearing sandals and a foo-foo little sun dress.  Don’t be that guy either!

 Citizens of Idaho: Just know the bikers are coming and they don’t all know how to make themselves visible on the road. They are not all expert riders. Our roads are littered with potential obstacles and distracting scenery. Breathe through your annoyance and see the inexperienced youngster who might make a panicked mistake. Share the road.

 And have a happy, blissed out biking season.  




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