03 September 2010

What I Did On My Summer Vacation--VROOM!!

Subtitle: In order to remember what it's like to feel alive, sometimes it's necessary to do something that scares the sh!t outta you.

So, I've been a little MIA this summer. As soon as the weather got nice, my husband and I have been out on his Harley whenever it's a nice day. This is our second summer with the bike, a '99 Ultra Classic, and while it's a blast riding behind my husband, I've been getting the itch to learn to ride, myself. I figured, hey, I know how to drive a stick shift. How hard can it be?

[insert hysterical laughter here]

Those of you who know me even a little know that I've had rheumatoid arthritis virtually all my life. I've done pretty well overall, thanks to modern medicines and joint replacement technology. Normal, everyday activities are usually not too big of an issue. Still, the prospect of working a clutch with my teeny little hands and not my foot had me working on strength training for a few weeks leading up to a weekend beginning riders course.

Day 1 of the riding portion of my Motorcycle Safety Foundation class dawned dreary and rainy, and I'm thinking, "Perfect! If this doesn't cure me of my fear of wet surfaces, nothing will."

I arrive, gear up, and walk down the row to select my bike, preferably one with a low seat. I got on a Honda Rebel, red, and my tush went "aaahhhh!!" It seems to be a good fit. Next step, overcome my first fear: balancing the bike. I put the kickstand up and leaned it back and forth, not real far, but got a feel for the weight. Okay, seems doable, and it's clear I'm not going to tip over just sitting still with my feet on the ground.

Did I mention it's pouring rain by now? I'm glad I put the visor back on my helmet.

Finally comes the moment to start the engine. I hit the button and how can I describe the feeling? I can't. Those of you who ride know what I'm talking about. Next, power walking, which brings me to my second concern - the clutch. First power walk completed, though I'm the slowest in the class. I'm struggling to find the friction zone as my hand strains and quickly starts getting sore. I manage a couple of sloooow power walks and by this time my fear of balancing while the bike is in motion is gone.

The trainer encourages me to go a bit faster and get my feet up. Nope, still can't find the friction zone (the point where you're letting out the clutch and the engine catches hold), and as I fight a losing battle with the clutch, I forget about the throttle. I give it a little gas, feel the engine staaaaaart to engage, then my clutch hand slips and, to my great surprise, I'm zipping along at maybe 8 to 10 mph but it felt like lightspeed!

There wasn't time to be scared. It was more like, "What the...? Oh. Let off the throttle, retrieve the clutch. Oh, and braking would be handy!" I get it stopped quickly, hit the kill switch and sit there for a minute to assess. Yeah, I know what happened. Still, I'm not really scared, just a bit startled. The trainer comes over and laughs, and cheers me back to the starting line. Okay. One more time. No more clutch slipping, but I still can't find the friction zone and I turtle across the range, straining with my left hand at the clutch. The I fought with it, the less my throttle hand cooperated.

Still raining. Oh, and I can't seem to get the bike from first to neutral without accidentally popping into 2nd. Balky gear shift, or rider ineptitude? At this point, hard to tell.

Meanwhile my clutch hand is getting increasingly tired and sore, and it's only been an hour since I started the engine. It's clear that my learning curve is going to be way too wide for this class - which by this time have all mastered power walking and are waiting for me after every revolution. After yet another of countless stall outs, I signaled the trainer and withdrew. My hand wasn't going to make it through the five hours ahead of me.

I sat down to watch the rest of the session. I held back tears for a few minutes, mainly because I'd wanted to ace the class in memory of my Dad. But as the class wore on I knew I'd made the right decision. I learned tons just by watching. It was fun to watch the beginning riders' faces light up and grins get bigger as they mastered each step.

At the end, both trainers told me that I was the first person who'd ever actually stayed to watch the rest of all-day session after withdrawing. They could see I'm determined and encouraged me to try again. A couple of the more experienced students in the class also talked to me and gave me advice, which was really nice. They all said I could work on my hand strength, but they thought might do better on a scooter, which doesn't involve a clutch. At least to build my confidence until I'm ready to look for that elusive friction zone again.

So, the bottom line is, by charging head-on into doing something that scares the crap out of me, I put a few unfounded fears to rest. And I'm confident that someday soon, I'll finally feel the wind in my face under my own power.

It was a pretty awesome day. :)


Special shout-out to my new friends at VTwinMama.com. You ladies rock!


Lisa said...

Had to check this out after you found my blog... YOU CAN DO IT!!! You have power and strength within you and all it takes is a little practice and a lot of determination! The adventure requires something of us and it's just picking up your feet and letting out the clutch!

Send me a photo when you get your new bike!

Carolan Ivey said...

Thanks for encouragement! I'll definitely send a pic.

I'm probably going to start with a 150cc scooter just to get accustomed to the movement aspect, and working with just a brake and throttle. Later on, start working with a clutch. My buds at vtwinmama.com have had all sorts of suggestions and ideas for me to modify a manual shift bike to fit my needs. :)