The Learning Curve   1 comment

In my last post, I said that avoidance of deep water which is over my head is my major brush with a phobia.  The topic came about because recently I have taken up motorcycle riding, something I’ve never done before.  My husband owned a Honda motorcycle when he was 16 and loved it.  Now, at the age of 60, he bought a 300 cc Sym Citycom scooter and has started to ride again.  He wanted me to join him.

One evening, a couple of weeks after he bought the scooter in April (his 60th birthday present from me), we went out to a school parking lot so that I could take my maiden ride on the scooter.  He rode the scooter there and I followed in the car.  We positioned the scooter in the parking lot, and he showed me where all the controls were.  There is no clutch on this kind of scooter.  There are two hand brakes, one on each handlebar, and a throttle on the right grip.  The engine is fuel-injected.

The scooter was tall for me.  I couldn’t touch the ground without leaning the scooter to the side.  I could not sit on the seat, nice and balanced, with my feet nearly flat on the ground on either side, like I should have been able to if the scooter fit me properly.  Did this deter us?  Stupidly, no.  I thought that I could kind of hop up on the seat, give it some gas, and get my balance once the machine started to move.  I tried it.  Guess what happened?  The scooter took off like a bat out of hell with me on it.  I don’t know how fast I was going.  It seemed VERY fast.  I thought I was squeezing hard on the brakes at that point, but the scooter was not slowing down and I was aimed directly at the curb at the end of the parking lot.  The scooter jumped the curb.  I went flying off the scooter and the scooter went in the opposite direction, crashing onto its side.  Luckily, I and the scooter parted ways before I reached Valley Creek Road down the embankment, and what I landed on was grass and not pavement.  Nonetheless, that is the hardest I’ve ever fallen in my life.  It was like being thrown off a galloping horse.  I landed on my side, taking the brunt of the fall on my ribcage close to the sternum, just under my left breast.  With the pain and muscle spasms I continued to have over the course of the next several weeks, I feel reasonably sure that I cracked a rib.  It’s three months later as of the writing of this, and I’m still a bit tender in that spot just to the left of my sternum.

There was a large part of me that wanted to say, “The hell with it.  I’m never doing this again!”  I went to bed that night, shaken and bruised and really hurting a lot.  As I was settling down for the night with a handful of Advil and the heating pad, I realized that I never did have to do that particular thing again.  I could make some better choices.  I could ride something that fit me.  I could learn how to do it.  I could become a competent rider if I wanted to without necessarily ever injuring myself again.  I decided that I wasn’t going to get phobic about the damn machine.  I was going to take that motorcycle training course that Dale and I were signed up for in mid-May and see how it went.

The class in mid-May was grueling, and my ribs still hurt.  It was two full days of training, from 8:00 am until after 5:00 pm both Saturday and Sunday.  It was hot, well up into the 80s, and the instructor pushed us hard.  We went from 8:00 until 2:00 before breaking for lunch.  I was exhausted and sunburned by the end of the first day and had had some trouble getting the hang of the shifting pattern on the motorcycle.  However, I studied the pattern that evening and went back for Day 2.

Day 2 was hard.  We were into some sharp cornering and U-turns that day.  My energy was flagging.  During a practice session just prior to beginning the testing that would lead to my motorcycle endorsement if I passed it, I went into the U-turn box to practice that maneuver that I would need to perform as part of the test.   I didn’t have enough momentum.  I was too hesitant.  The inevitable happened under those circumstances.  I tipped the bike.  I bruised my shin and burned the calf of my leg against the exhaust pipe.  Good thing I was wearing denim jeans or it would have been a lot worse.  I sat out the testing, but I did hang out with the instructor while the rest of the students, including my husband, took their tests.  I then finished up the classroom part of the course and scored 100% on the written exam.

I left feeling exhausted and demoralized, although Dale reinforced how much I had learned during the two days, starting out as a beginner, and my classmates thought that I just rocked by getting up and finishing the course, even though I didn’t take the skills test.  I was still close to saying, “To hell with it” at that point and hanging up my helmet.

I knew I had two choices at that juncture: either hang it up or buy a cycle and start practicing and building my confidence that I could do this thing.  By the end of the following week, I was the proud owner of Yamaha V Star 250. (Her name is Starr and she’s a beauty!)

The story doesn’t end there, though.  Dale had his first brush with a nearly serious accident just a couple of weeks after the motorcycle course.  The evening before, he and our housemate had gotten into a conflict.  There was a lot of negative emotion involved.  Dale went upstairs to bed, but then I spent two hours in the TV room with my friend while she vented to me about the conflict with my husband.  When I went upstairs to bed, he woke up.  I said to him, “We need to talk.  Not now. I’m not up to it, but tomorrow before we start our day.”  He spent the rest of the night awake.

At daybreak, looking haggard with red-rimmed eyes, he told me that he needed to get out of the house for awhile and he took his scooter out.  I received a phone call a few hours later that he needed to be “rescued.”  The scooter had stalled and he wore down the battery trying to get it started again.  I found him just outside of Prescott, Wisconsin and we jumped the battery.  I then followed him home in the pouring rain.

I think it was that night with a little privacy in the TV room after our housemates had gone to bed that he told me the entire story.  He had been navigating a series of “S” turns.  Due to fatigue and distraction, he lost his concentration and the control of the scooter.  He ended up in the oncoming lane of traffic on that curve (luckily, no one hit him) and dumped the scooter on the opposite side of the road.  The scooter doesn’t like being in that position and stalled out, of course.  That was the rest of the story!

I could have freaked, but I didn’t.  We talked it through.  What he should have done (perhaps not hopped on his scooter when he was so fatigued and stressed) and what he could have done from a riding standpoint.  We both learned from the experience, and I encouraged him to tell me whenever an incident like this happens so we can analyze it and work through it, both learning from it.  (I hope it never happens again, but chances are, it will to some degree.)

I had to apologize to Starr just a week after Dale’s incident for losing my balance when stopping at a stop sign and tipping over.  I whacked my damn shin again. Same one as I smacked in the motorcycle class.  Dang, that hurt!  That was two months ago, and it’s still sore!  Anyhow, I had to get up, patch up my wounded pride, and practice, practice, practice.  I will not let fear take me down.  Not at this stage of the game!  If I’m going to go down, I”m going to go wearing my boots!

I have an appointment after work tomorrow to see my hairstylist but Thursday after work should be a good time for a ride.  It’s time that Starr came out of the garage for a little exercise!


One response to “The Learning Curve

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  1. I’m glad to hear that you’re not letting past negative experiences hold you back from doing the things you want to do! I have come a long way in that regard myself. I could easily lock myself away and blame those who have hurt me for my bad decisions and poor judgment, but I have found a certain freedom in owning my own mistakes, learning from them, and pressing forward. As difficult as it can be to face our fears, taking that kind of personal responsibility is very liberating, in my experience. 🙂

    Thank you for sharing this story, Bonnie! I can relate in a variety of ways.

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