Saturday, November 1

My answer to the $65,000 question

I wondered how long it would take before well-meaning family and friends asked the inevitable question: “So are you going to stop riding a motorcycle now?” Sometimes someone will add, “…before you get killed?” It’s not always posed like that, but the meaning is the same. Yesterday a friend called it “The $65,000 question.” He asked, “So what does riding a motorcycle tell you?” It has taken less than four weeks for the inquisition to begin.

Those who know me best know my answer. Those who don’t, this space will set the record straight. My accident/mishap/“get off,” doesn’t change—in any way—how I choose to live. Accidents happen. Thank goodness I can continue on as before. I have always done all I could to ride smart and ride safe. Hindsight can color and influence one’s perceptions. I’ve had plenty of time to sit and cogitate about my misadventure. Are there things I would have done differently? Sure. I should have been fed and hydrated. Being better skilled is never a bad thing, which is why I take advanced classes each year. Some of the most skilled riders have had accidents. Stuff happens.

What I find interesting is that I’ve fallen off my bicycle before and really hurt myself. Five years ago I fell while jogging and shattered my wrist, which now has a 6 inch titanium implant holding my wrist together. I was laid up for a long time. No one and I mean no one asked me in either of my previous accidents if I were going to stop the offending activity that led to my injuries. No one questioned whether I’d mount my bicycle again. I’d continue jogging without anyone doubting my sanity—thought the knees were taking a serious beating each day! Yet, both accidents resulted in temporarily crippling injury and either could have been deadly.

Recently, a friend told me of a woman who stepped off a curb and broke her ankle so badly that it had to be pinned together; it took her out of commission for months. I personally know of a couple of people who have died as a result of bicycle accidents. It is not unheard of to hear about fit runners dropping dead of a heart attack while jogging.

So why the questions about my future motorcycle riding?

It has to do, I think, with a mythology circumscribing motorcycles and motorcyclists. For many people ‘cycles are inherently dangerous and the people who ride them constitutionally flawed. Simply put, they must be “nuts.” Many refer to motorcycles as “donor cycles” to capture what happens to the organs of those fatally injured. Motorcyclists are too often reduced to the tiny minority of bikers who ride with total abandon, blasting about on two wheel without regard to their or others’ safety, weaving through highway traffic, performing wheelies on the interstate—all of which takes place sans a helmet or proper gear. Fixated in the myopic minds of many, despite what they may see to the contrary, are that small percent of bikers who fit this “badass” stereotype. That’s the problem with stereotypes. People tend to see what fits the label and ignore and discount that which doesn’t fit the stereotype. The “badass” biker doesn’t represent the majority of motorcyclists any more than Sarah Palin represents all women. The majority of motorcyclists are like me, we do not have a death wish. We do all we can to enjoy our sport safely. Given our chosen sport, we might be slightly more of a risk-taker than the average Joe or Jane, but I would guess that we don’t differ that much from the general population. You’ll find motorcyclists running the gamut of the bell curve with the majority of us hovering in the middle, looking vastly different than that small, extreme tails at opposing ends of the bell curve.

So when people ask if I’ve now had enough of this “dangerous” activity and if am going to stop before I “kill myself,” I’ve told them, “Thanks for your concern. But I see no reason to give up now or later what brings me pleasure. It is true that not riding my motorcycle guarantees that I won’t be killed riding a motorcycle. Why stop there? Why not live my life eliminating all the things that could potentially kill me? The implications of this are far reaching—including not watching television in my living room or sleeping in my own bed for fear that a bullet shot through the window might kills me. Both of these have happened in real life! Grant this is unlikely to happen, but it could! Why not give up eating some of the healthy foods I love that have had E-coli related recalls that have killed some people. Riding public transportation might have to go too as shooting and stabbings happen. Heaven forbid if I needed a blood transfusion many years ago, I might be among those who have perished because of tainted blood. I could still die from a staph infection while in the hospital! No one can tell me that driving a car in downtown Chicago is not dangerous so I guess I should avoid that too.One can live a life avoiding things deemed harmful according to others’ definitions of what’s dangerous. In all that we do, we take risks. Some people really do manage an existence based on fear of what might happen. I’m not one of them. That doesn’t sound like a life worth living to me. I don’t know if I’ll pass this way again, but for the time I’m privileged to be here, I choose to live fully. That includes transcending my own fears and not allowing others’ fears to inhibit me. It means being a good person no matter how many awful ones I meet. It means being kind and a good citizen. It means always walking gently upon the earth, doing my utmost to do no harm to others. It means seeing in the faces of others the faces of my own loved ones.

There is indeed a lot to be afraid of out there. At times the world seems malignant and so menacing that I’d just as soon put my head under the covers than venture out. But I’ve learned that is the precise time I must go out. I need then reconnect and rediscover the goodness in others and to reestablish my faith in humankind.

I’m of an age where I realize I have fewer years ahead of me than are behind me. This isn’t the time to put the brakes on living. Now is the time to look the future square in the eyes and march forward with arms open, body erect, and a mind unfettered by others’ labels and stereotypes of what is dangerous.

Friday the weather in Chicago was nearly 70 degrees! I ached for my blue Beemer and a nice long ride. A day like this would have me disappearing for a 200 or so miles ride for lunch somewhere downstate.

Instead, I am sitting here nursing still afflicted ribs and a collar bone that smarts every time I forget and lift something with my left hand. But I am also smiling as I recall the years of safe riding memories I’ve created for myself. Like my ride to Wawa, Ontario and marveling at the mammoth Wawa Canadian Goose. Or, when I spent a sizzling day on Whitefish Point in the UP of Michigan... Or, that time I rode to Copper Harbor and enjoy the views from Brockway Mountains. Or, taking a fully loaded bike through the narrow and twisty “Tunnel of Trees” from Harbor Springs to Cross Village... Even getting lost in Duluth, MN while looking for Aerostitch/Riderwearhouse and nearly running out of gas on an isolated stretch of the Ontario-Trans-Canada Highway 17. I can’t forget my time near Taqumenon Falls and Kakabeka Falls and the time I located and photographed from afar the sleeping giant in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park in Ontario. All of these memories sustain me now and easily bring a smile to my heart.

I have some regrets in life but none about riding a motorcycle and enjoying that experience I’ve had. I will continue to ride. When I’m old and forced to put away my two wheels, I will not only wear purple, I will remember and retell my riding tales. But that is a long way off.

To all those well-intentioned askers of the “$65,000 question…” the answer is: unequivocally, absolutely, and emphatically “NO.” I am not retiring the ‘cycle. As long as I am alive and able, I will live unencumbered by fears—yours or mine.

Upcoming much delayed amazing trip to Ohio!