When I turned fifty, I had recovered from busting my ACL on the ski mountain. My horse was sold. My son was off to school. I was not yet a principal at my school. Deep in my gut was a burning irritation with life that I could not soothe. I needed something to throw myself against. My husband had a 1983 Honda Magna that we would ride on the highways in the Eastern Sierra mountains. Even if I was on the back it made me smile.
One day he stopped on the way to Mammoth and told me to get off. I had been complaining about the narrow seat that was hard as hell.
“Get off.” Puzzled I got off.
“Get on front.”
We both still had on helmets and with the bike running, we were shouting at each other.
“Get on front. I got it. You steer. I’ll do the feet.”
You have to understand that Peter was an adventure addict too. He had raced Porsches and was a pilot. He was teaching me to fly too.
I got on the front. A little instruction on when to squeeze the clutch and the brake and off we went. I liked not looking at the back of his helmet. My smile was enormous. Later that year we were in Reno looking at Harleys where I had been circling bikes. That day in November, Peter rode home a used 1999 silver Sportster. I could not even ride it for a test drive. I took the motorcycle safety class in the spring and spent weekends in the ski mountain parking lot going around and falling over. Peter would help me pick the bike up and went with me when I finally hit the road. Each time I got on the bike, my heartbeat fast and I would have to take a minute to gather the guts to take off. Going fast was easy. Going slow in circles was very hard. That was the focus of the final motorcycle license test. There were only six months between the learner’s permit and the deadline for the test. It was November again before I drove to Bishop to take the test. I was coming from a full day at school and had ridden the fifty miles to school then the thirty into Bishop and I was tired. I passed the test and had a new driver’s license picture taken. I still have that license. My hair is all sideways but my smile is huge.
I was the last person in the DMV office when I headed up the mountain. It was cold but I was well covered in leathers. Coming up the grade it began to snow. As I rose from the valley to the 8000-foot elevation the snow became white out. I slowed to see but that made my balance on the bike tricky in the slippery snow. No cars were around me. I was alone in the darkening evening. Only my white headlight shown out onto the road. I had to keep wiping the snow off my facemask. My hands went numb and I was afraid to stop. Snow-covered my knuckles as I gripped the bike. I had to wait until I reached Mammoth airport before I had any cell phone coverage. Finally, I saw the revolving light at the airport and the long lines of the runway lights. I stopped but did not get off the bike. I pulled off my helmet, shook the snow off my knuckles, and fished my phone out of my pocket. I was shaking hard but I got Peter on the phone and asked him to meet me at the airplane hangar. I drove to the airport, put the code into the gate, and parked on the tarmac. No one was there but me. Finally, the lights of Peter’s truck came up. I was safe.
That’s how my motorcycle adventures started. Each time I was challenged. Each time I survived. Lots of times the things that scared me most were not as dangerous as that first solo licensed ride.
Honeydew Bridge was a good example of the relationship between fear and reality. The bridge was on the Lost Coast in northern California. We were traveling on a long trip up the west coast exploring backroads. We were riding through roads that were lost in the forest and we never knew where the GPS would lead us. Or when it would leave us when it lost signal. One dead signal road narrowed and narrowed until we came to a bridge. I didn’t want to turn around and risk dropping the bike in the gravel. We had already navigated several tricky places in that road and the only help was too far to walk. But the bridge was planks laid with space between then and a rut down the middle and a plank across at the beginning. Going slow on uneven ground was my greatest fear. I know that doesn’t make sense. You can get hurt much worse going fast and uneven ground is fine if you just keep a steady speed. But that’s what I felt. And the bridge itself was beautiful, idyllically glittering with sunlight filtering through the trees and glinting back from the burbling waters in the creek below. I was paralyzed. My eyes were wet, my breathing came fast, my heartbeat loud in my ears. I wanted to quit but that was not an option. I asked Peter to ride across first. Now I was alone and I had to cross. With fierce concentration, I rode that bumpy plank bridge repeating, “Steady.” Of course, I made it. Of course, it was easy once I had done it. Of course, it was not the reality of the crossing that scared me. It was what I was thinking, it was my internal dialogue. Fear of failure. That’s what I conquered at Honeydew Bridge.