My pulse raced as I left the comfort zone of the big parking lot and took a right turn onto an actual street in the industrial park where I practice. The synapses in my brain over-fired as I worked through shifting, braking, engaging the blinker, turning, and stopping. Corners scared me, and stopping did too, ever since I dropped my bike.
It had been five days since I’d been able to get back out to practice. For those five days, I thought about cornering and stopping, and every time I did, fear gushed through my body and my heartbeat accelerated.
It didn’t help that my friend Claire, a physical therapist, insisted that if I was going to ride a motorcycle I needed to wear leather chaps. Chaps? I’m not wearing chaps! “I’m not kidding,” she said. “I’ve worked with enough patients with road rash to know how painful the recovery is. Believe me, you don’t want skin grafts.” She’s right; I don’t want skin grafts. But I don’t own chaps. (Yet?) But I can’t let that interfere with my practice right now. Still, her comment fueled my anxiety.
The next practice day finally arrived. But for the two hours leading up to my practice session, my chest felt like it was slowly being squeezed in a vice and my head played tapes of near misses and falls. Once again, I turned to YouTube (How to turn a motorcycle properly), thinking I could alleviate my distress. Instead, my anxiety spiked watching “CagerOnTwoWheels” race down the highway, weaving in and out of cars.
What have I gotten myself into?
…I wasn’t ready to give up.
…I refused to let fear hold me back.
…I reminded myself that millions of people have gone through this learning curve.
I’m doing this.
As I rode my bike around my normally abandoned parking lot, I drew an audience. Dudes in three different vehicles parked and watched me as I toodled around on my bike waiting for my friend to arrive. The audience didn’t help alleviate my anxiety; their presence made me become overly cautious, afraid that I might spill in front of them and wound my tender ego. But when my friend showed up on his bike, my audience scattered. (Huh.)
“Are you ready?” he asked. I nodded. (I wasn’t.) “Okay, we’ll leave the parking lot, follow the road to the stop sign, turn right, then loop around the next parking lot and come back here, okay?”
“Okay.” I nodded again. (What if I crash?) I swallowed my fear and pretended it wasn’t there. “You go first,” I said.
“Okay,” he said. “Here we go!”
He eased out of the parking lot, turning right. I wobbled after him, arcing a little too wide and brushing into the other lane. Damnit. I shook my head and rolled the throttle to build up speed and stabilize the bike. After the stop sign, there was a straight-away. First gear, second gear, third gear, fourth! 30 mph! The wind whooshed past my ears, sounding like a roaring waterfall. I couldn’t hear the sound of the engine because it trailed behind me, so I had to rely on the feel of the bike under my body—choppy or smooth—to tell me when to shift.
When we stopped, I looked up at my friend waiting for my critique. “You have to watch the turns. You’re a little wide. If cars were coming, you’d be in trouble.” (I know. I know. I KNOW.) Then a grin spread across his face and he gave me the thumbs up sign. “You’re doing it!”
I blew the air out of my lungs. (I’m doing it!) I felt incredibly proud and accomplished. I must have beamed back at him.
I looped around the industrial park 3 more times. Each time, my curves tightened up. I shifted more naturally. I kept my head up and looked around more. Progress, progress, progress.
It was a good practice session.
Later that night, I mentally debriefed the ride; my cells were unclenched and the tightness of my chest was gone. I reviewed maneuvers I could have done better and took note of where I could clean up some mistakes and do better the next time.
I realized the brain-work of riding is much more demanding than the physical work.
At least I was making progress.
I’m getting there.