When I was in my early 40’s, I was probably having what you would call a ‘mid-life’ crisis. Lots of people go through a phase where they’re bored, in a rut, or wanting to try things that hey hadn’t done before. I’ve always loved to try new things – and usually, the faster, the better.
When I was a kid, I had a big fear of heights. I didn’t like going on Ferris wheels, roller coasters, or bridges – I didn’t even like going up high in a building (on the inside, let alone standing on the roof). Over time, however, I learned how to deal with that fear, and learned that I LIKED roller coasters. Sure, they were scary, and there was a lot of tension as we’d climb that first hill…but once the coater climbed that first hill and screamed down the other side…I was (happily) screaming along with the other riders.
Did I say I like roller coasters? I LOVE roller coasters, and the bigger, steeper and faster they are, the better. I’ve done everything from the older, traditional wooden coasters to the most modern steel coasters. Looping coasters? Been there. Standing coaster? Done that. Vertical climb, 90 degree descent, launch coasters? Awesome. I’ve even ridden Top Thrill Dragster (Cedar Point) and Kingda Ka (Six Flags), where you’re launched from 0-120 in less than 4 seconds, shot straight up 400 feet…then back down the other side.
That teacup ride at Disney World, however….and I’m done for the day. I can go fast, but I don’t spin well.
When I was a kid, I had a fascination for motorcycles. My Mom was adamant that I didn’t get on one, and since my uncle had been involved in an accident, she felt that she didn’t need to harp on the issue…and I agreed. I didn’t want to be in an accident, either, and made it through high school and college without getting on a motorcycle.
Have you ever wanted to try something new and out of character? Maybe it’s skydiving, bungee jumping or learning how to tango. Some times we all feel a need to break out of our previous mold to try new things. I think that’s what boredom is – it’s just your brain telling you that you need to get out of your rut and try something new, so that you don’t stagnate. Some people change careers, buy a sports car or hire a personal trainer. I had never considered going back to learn how to ride a motorcycle, but now, I wanted to at least try it, to see if it was a hobby I wanted to take up.
When I turned 40, however, the itch for riding a motorcycle started to come back. I had been involved in autocross and other racing events, and felt that I could handle learning how to ride a motorcycle. Lots of my friends were getting motorcycles, and I wanted one, too. SO…I started researching how to pick a motorcycle, best methods for learning how to ride and what safety equipment was best.
Then one day, I got MY motorcycle. It wasn’t some big Harley-Davidson V-twin like my friends got…
It was a little Honda. ‘Rebel’ 250. The quintessential entry-level bike. I found a lightly used one, that had literally been driven by a little old lady on weekends. I figured if she could handle it, I could. I got a full-face helmet, armored riding jacket, riding boots, gloves and heavy jeans. I assured everybody that I was going to be smart about learning how to ride. Born to be Mild.
…and for the most part, it worked well. I’d watch videos for beginning riders, familiarized myself with all the motorcycle controls, and practiced riding around the neighborhood, away from traffic, and only at times when cars weren’t likely to be around. I got my provisional motorcycle license from the DMV, and signed up for a Motorcycle Safety Foundation class to make sure I knew how to ride safely.
As mid-life crises go, I was going about mine in a fairly sensible and logical fashion. I’ve always had a fascination for learning new things, and this seemed like an opportunity to put that to the test. I subscribed to motorcycle forums, bought magazines, and hung out at the motorcycle shop. There were young riders wanting the fastest, most exotic sport bike legally possible. There were old, grizzled riders who turned their noses up at any bike that wasn’t built in the United States. There were Boomer and Gen-X riders who finally had enough disposable income to buy whatever they wanted, so they could at least look the part of being a motorcycle rider..even if their wallet was a lot thicker than their skill and experience.
I just wanted to be a ‘normal’, average rider. I had no desire to go really fast, no need to impress other people, and no penchant for loud pipes or stunt riding. I just wanted to learn how to ride so I could occasionally ride to work in good weather, go for rides in the mountains and enjoy the scenery. In short, probably the most boring mid-life crisis you could imagine. It was, however, good enough for me.
Over the early spring and summer, I’d get home from work, spend time with the kids, walk the dog…then suit up to get some riding in. I’d check the brakes and throttle, make sure there were no loose parts or worry spots on the bike. I checked my gear to make sure my jacket and helmet fit well, and that I had good visibility on the streets….then I’d get on the bike, make a few imaginary revs, then start it up. Being a smaller bike, it wasn’t very loud, but it was good enough for me.
I was having fun riding around the block, running to the store and getting used to life on 2 wheels. I’d always loved riding bicycles, but this was different. I could sit a stop sign and make the bike go RUN-na-na-na-na…and get away from traffic at a light just by pushing the throttle a bit. I didn’t have to go REALLY fast, but I could go fast enough.
I was also aware that there were lots of things that could hurt me – even though I was riding a red bike, with a white helmet and lots of reflective bits….I was invisible to cars. That’s probably a motorcycle rider’s biggest fear – that cars, trucks and SUV’s don’t see you. I was hyper vigilant of vehicles, and let them have the right of way every time….because if we hit each other, they might have a dent, but I’m a little harder to repair than a fender. I made sure that I gave cars plenty of leeway, as well as pedestrians, bicyclists and anyone else out there.
In short, I was learning to ride in about as safe of a way as possible, trying to be aware of all the potential hazards. To paraphrase Robert Burns, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men (and motorcycle riders) Gang aft agley”.
When I set out for a quick ride on July 9, 2004, I had no idea just how far ‘agley’ those best-laid plans were about to go.