What’s on your list of “firsts”?

Happy New Year! I’m not one for making resolutions anymore. It seemed to become this grade school-like exercise where the assignment is to list a bunch of your petty faults, along with a set of rules to follow to fix yourself. Oh, and if you’re not perfect by March then you fail! No thanks. I do love to reflect on my favorite adventures from the past year and look forward to all the new experiences and “firsts” to come in the next 365 days. There are roads to ride, places to visit, and people to meet for the first time. If riding your own motorcycle is on YOUR list of firsts, make this the year it happens!

I’ve mentioned the lady rider who inspired me to get my own motorcycle before, and with the I-can-do-anything-attitude my mom gifted me, I knew it would happen. But, where do you start? My advice to you is the same I received; take a motorcycle riding/safety course. Mine consisted of a classroom session on a Friday night, then a half day of training on the range Saturday and Sunday, with testing at the end. Passing the course, which met requirements established by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, meant I didn’t have to take an additional driving test at the DMV. Also, there were discounts available from participating insurance companies after receiving a completion certificate. Since it’s been… a while since that weekend, I thought I’d check with friends who are, or were class instructors to see if the experience is still similar. Ruth was an instructor in Central Virginia and confirmed that the course is still much as I remembered it. Like me, she’d ridden as a passenger before riding a bike on her own. She explained how that transitioned into becoming a RiderCoach:

I dated guys with motorcycles in my teens and rode as a passenger, but hadn’t operated a motorcycle until 1998, when I took the Basic Rider Course (BRC) in Charlottesville, VA.  A couple of years after taking the course, I got a job working in the Albemarle County Public Schools’ Community Education Department.  The Basic Rider Course was one of the classes offered through Community Ed.  I learned more about what a great service the DMV-sponsored course provided the public by the positive feedback from students.  Most raved about the course, the RiderCoaches, and what a great experience they had.  By 2007, I had enough riding experience and decided I wanted a better understanding of the course we offered, so I took the Motorcycle Instructor course through the DMV.  It was intense; a couple of very stressful weekends of studying, gaining and practicing skills that would assist students to safely operate a motorcycle.  I was the only woman in that group of 15 men to become a certified RiderCoach.

Coach Rod is still an instructor through this program and was inspired by Ruth to take a class and then go on to be certified as a RiderCoach right along with her:

My inspiration to become a rider coach started at the picnic table of my best friend’s bike shop. Several of my riding friends were talking about taking the basic rider course. It was a safety class I guessed but had NEVER heard of such thing and didn’t know it existed. They asked if I had taken the course and I was like NO, I’ve been riding 30 plus years, never been down what have I got to learn? They had ALL taken it and said you might be surprised at what you will learn. Ruth was one of those riders and she convinced me to take the class. It was a gorgeous September day on day one and it went well. It poured buckets on day 2 and was cold and miserable! What I learned about myself as a rider was amazing. I was a lazy braker, (usually just the rear and the front if needed), my cornering was marginal. There was just a lot I was not doing properly. After 2 days I was a better rider than I had been my entire life. At that moment I knew I wanted to teach this class. It was fun, exciting and it just might save a life.

Rodman also points out where you can get more details on taking a class, “You can pick a class by signing up for the weekend of your choice at opendoors1.org or visit the MSF website to find the classes closest to you. VA has 350,000 riders. We add about 7000 more each year through this program. For roughly 150 bucks you get great training and a chance to learn on someone else’s bike!!!  You only need a driver’s license and the proper attire. We provide helmets and bikes. Under 19 requires a parental signature. It’s a ton of fun and two days of great work.”

Rod’s brother, Clark, also teaches the course! He explains, “My Brother got me into being an instructor after he had been doing it for a while. His conviction on just how much one could benefit from the course did it for me. After taking the class myself, I realized that I wasn’t the rider I thought I was. Always room for improvement!”

If you have no experience on motorcycles, even as a passenger, don’t let that deter you from taking the class. One such student stands out in Clark’s memories as an instructor:

This student came in with nervous enthusiasm. She knew in her heart she was going to get that Ducati monster after getting her permit. She insisted on a bike that was a bit taller than we would have liked but handled it with determination. She did well all weekend and had a near perfect riding exam. When we handed her the permit and gave her her score she gave us a huge smile and said, “So I did ok for never having ridden before?!” That weekend was the first time she had ever sat on a bike!!

Maryann was also inspired by a family member to become a riding instructor in Northern Virginia:

I have been riding since my college days. The summer of 1969. We used to go hill climbing when we weren’t in class. I had a 3 gear 120cc Suzuki. It had a shifter that would cut the gear ratio in half for trail riding. I raced TT Scrambles in Lodi, CA – on a 100cc Hodaka. I didn’t ride after my oldest son was around 2 until my kids were grown. Then it was only street riding. My son-in-law was the one who wanted to become an instructor. I went along because it sounded like fun. And it was! We taught a lot together. Lots of mother-in-law jokes. It’s a great course. Within 3 days I watch people who have never been on a motorcycle become decent and safe riders. That is the most fun. Watching the light bulb go on. Changing from someone who is afraid to lean the motorcycle to someone who can ride a curve, or swerve, with good form.

Anyone else in the area looking for more information on this class can go to nvcc.edu, and search for the basic motorcycle rider course. No matter what state, once you do some investigating, you’ll find a course convenient to your location to suit you along with awesome teachers like Ruth, Rod, Clark, and Maryann. One thing these four instructors have in common is their advice to new riders. All of them stress the importance of practicing basic skills and riding your own ride. In other words, don’t get pushed past your comfort zone by other riders as you gain experience.

These coaches have also mentioned that a big part of what makes teaching fun is when a student is successful, and they see the rider “get it” for the first time when it comes to learning a new skill. Be that student! Worried about looking “foolish”? Check out Ruth’s recollection of a student who stood out for the wrong reasons:

My most memorable event as an instructor was when a student came back to class Sunday morning with a hangover and still a little intoxicated.  While attending a party, he had passed out in a theater and wasn’t sure what happened to his riding attire. He came to class wearing Shakespearean tights, mismatched socks, colorful slippers, and a see-through mesh shirt that didn’t quite cover his belly.  He said he grabbed clothes from the costume closet.  He fully expected to finish the course in that state and seemed stupefied that we sent him away.  

After that example, I think it would be more foolish to stay home and not take a chance on yourself and reaching a new goal. I might see you on the range too, looking back on the fun I had in my own class, this might be the year I take my first refresher course!

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Where to?

1-Do you want to go for a ride?

2-Where to?

Luckily the answer to question 1 is almost always an immediate “yes”. However, getting an answer to question 2 can be a bit trickier. It’s similar to asking someone what they want for dinner. If you’ve ever argued with your family over that decision you probably already know what I mean. And if you are riding solo, there are still times question 2 could be hard to answer. It’s like the options become overwhelming. If you’ve ever made your closet resemble a ransacked crime scene while you argue with yourself over what to wear, you surely know what I mean! My fridge is once again getting pleasantly wallpapered with flyers to remind me of nearby events, rides, and rallies now that spring is here. However, when some free time comes along where a ride is certain but the destination is not, how do you answer the question, “Where to?” This year, I’m finding solutions as well as new roads by taking part in a season-long run.

The 2018 Marble Run, to benefit the Frederick County Chapter of ABATE of Maryland,marble run Inc., is underway and wraps up with an After Party on October 6th in Frederick. This scavenger hunt of sorts is simple: buy a book, ride to the participating locations, keep track of your marble colors in the book, have a good time at the party, and see if you win a nice chunk of gas money! While cash would be nice, I think the biggest payoff of this run is the adventures I’ll have, discoveries I make, and people I meet along the way. There are marble stops in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, some at places I already know and make a point to ride to often. Yet some are at cool spots that I didn’t even know were there. For example, I pass through the town of Lovettsville several times a year. Turns out there’s a great coffee/tea/shake shop just around the corner and off my usual route, that I might not have found out about if I hadn’t ridden there to score a marble.

In addition, it’s my opinion that anyone who rides a motorcycle should be involved with and support a motorcycle rights organization like ABATE. Are you unfamiliar with ABATE (A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments)? Having been a member of the organization in three different states now, I can tell you it’s made up of a group of women and men who fight hard for our rights and freedoms as motorcycle riders. I encourage you to find out more about ABATE in your state, find a chapter meeting near you to attend, and join! If in Maryland, see www.abateofmd.org. Also, try your luck on the Marble Run for a chance to win at the After Party. There will be live music from regional classic rock favorites Special Delivery, a good time with others in our riding community, and the knowledge that you’re helping to protect our rights on the road. Because freedom isn’t free.

Faux Seasons

It’s the first full day of spring, and we’ve seen several inches of snow fall today. Apparently I’m confused about what season it is in my dreams too. I woke up this morning with lines of fall dancing around in my mind, leading to this one…

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Into each road some mud must fall?

A light rain fell all morning during my niece’s recent lacrosse tournament. While the mist didn’t seem to dampen any of the players’ spirits, it did manage to turn the fields used as parking lots for the event into slimy mud pits. “Look at this mess,” my boyfriend muttered as he maneuvered the SUV back onto the slick road to leave. I have to admit I was relieved not to be on two wheels that day, even as my mind wandered down a very slippery memory lane to another time when I was.

It happened during an impromptu ride to explore the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Vacation in the summer of 2009 was supposed to consist of a group road trip to Kentucky to reunite with a bunch of friends. You know how plans go sometimes…they don’t. With only about a week left before the departure date, a few of the participants had to cancel, a few decided to reschedule for later, and that left me and my friend Debbie with time off from work and a need for Plan B. We started naming places we hadn’t been yet, but wanted to visit, and agreed on Chincoteague as our destination.

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Cuddling with Lightning of Chincoteague

We had a blast; over and through the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, straight to Chincoteague to find a place to stay and check out the town, then on to continue our adventure by heading south and making stops in places off route 13 that had captured our interest on the way up. During one break in Onley, imagine our surprise to discover a bike rally was just getting started nearby. We checked into a hotel, then rode over to the event grounds to investigate. We met some great folks and found out the schedule for the weekend included games, wrestling matches, bands, and vendors. We also learned camping space was available and while we hadn’t brought any supplies, we could rent a tent from the organizers. We took them up on that when we returned the next afternoon, especially considering bottomless mugs o’ beer would be available throughout the rally.

It was so much fun I really didn’t pay much attention to the on-again, off-again showers throughout that night. I didn’t really think about the rain until the next morning when I ventured out of the tent looking for coffee. I was distracted by a bit of commotion at the lone entrance/exit to the rally site, as those attempting to leave slipped, slid, and wiped out on their bikes in the mud. It was like watching some sort of bizarre biker rodeo game going horribly wrong. Wet weather had taken its toll on the short driveway from the road onto the soaked property. The event organizers had tried to help fix the problem by spreading shells and gravel across what was becoming a huge mire, but too much traffic had come and gone leaving deep trenches of glop to try to navigate through. As I stood there, another rider made it through the muck at the gate only to flop over on the road, and I cringed at the sound of chrome scraping pavement. Then I noticed a vendor we’d met during the previous night’s live music waving me over closer to the action.

“Ain’t this a mess?! Me and most of the other vendors with RVs and trailers have sank down into the field and are waiting on trucks to come pull us out. I’ve been watching this all morning, and here’s what you gotta do to get out of here.”

I paid attention as he explained we’d have to approach the gate from left to right. He pointed out the track most riders were following to find success in staying upright, and told me to approach the gate almost parallel to the opening to stay where the mud was the shallowest. He warned that we would have keep heading right once we were on the road, because a thin layer of mud had been smeared up onto the surface. That coating was hard to see, like black ice. He’d seen many make the mistake of thinking they were good to go once they reached the asphalt, only to roll on the throttle and have the bike shimmy out from under them. Aha, that’s how the peg-crunching topple I’d witnessed a bit earlier had happened. It was now understood that not only would we have to head off in the wrong direction, we’d have to ride far enough to reach bare pavement to keep from taking a spill in a U-turn, and pass over the film of mud again to point ourselves home. I thanked him for the tips, and went to fill Debbie in on the details.

“This has the potential to suck,” I announced.

“What’s the matter, are you afraid you’ll drop your bike?”

“No, I’m afraid if I drop it there’s no way to get any footing or leverage for me or anyone to lift it back up.”

I finished packing my bike with disturbing visions of it on its side in ankle-deep sludge flashing through my head. I could just imagine a half-dozen well-meaning people trying to help me upright it. And instead, we’d all wind up in a Woodstock-inspired, grime-coated pseudo game of Twister on a motorcycle instead of the usual multi-colored gumball-stamped mat.

Finally, we were ready to try and make our escape. We putted our bikes around to the left side of the gate and paused to watch a rider with his dog in a sidehack ease his way through the exit. A guy waiting for someone to come tow his camper out yelled, “Good luck, honey!” I thanked him and then tuned in to hear my inner voice chanting:
NOSUDDENMOVESNOSUDDENMOVESNOSUDDENMOVES, as we slowly squiggled, wiggled, and painstakingly churned our way to solid ground. Once I was sure I was on dry pavement, I glanced back to see Debbie still following, and thankfully still vertical. We turned our bikes around, and carefully crossed the slimy patch of road in front of the gate to start the ride home.

A couple of days after that we rode up on Skyline Drive and encountered a black bear, but that’s a story on its own for another time. No matter what jogs your memory, here’s hoping you can reminisce on beautiful rides and laugh at the stickier situations. And as you look back at the old year and anticipate what the new one will bring on this strange trip of life, my wish is that you’ll find more smiles than tears. Cheers and Happy New Year!

“The dirt will still be there tomorrow…”

This has got to be one of the busiest summers of my life, to the point where I actually have to remind myself to take time to just breathe.

I can think back to an important lesson in time-management my mom gave me years ago. I was stressed out over how to juggle several responsibilities all at once. As I ran down the list of things that needed to be done over the phone with her I mentioned cleaning and that’s when she interrupted with a snort, “The dirt will still be there tomorrow.”

Whassssat?! When your own mother tells you it’s OK to procrastinate on housework it’s definitely time to relax and rearrange your list of priorities a bit! IMG_20160815_093231Maybe I took the advice to a fault earning my bike the nickname of “Dirty 1” because I’d rather spend time riding it that washing it, but that’s a different story.

In recent weeks I realized a lot of my riding had become errand driven, if I was on the road I was finishing up some sort of task and I was in need of an afternoon doing nothing but enjoying the ride. To fix that, one day I took the long way home from work with no real goal in mind.

A stop along the way brought me to a pub I hadn’t been in yet so I decided to have a burger and a beer on their patio. Shaded by vines and branches overhead, I continued to clear any worrisome thoughts from my mind and stay in the moment of a beautiful day. After a while I became aware of some chirping form above and spotted birds flying in and out of their nest.0524161412

As I watched and listened, I wondered what other small miracles I’d overlooked lately as a result of the preoccupation of making a few major life changes during the fun of the summer season. Reality check; time to reprioritize that dirt.

What needs to be tended to first is the dirt ridden over on two wheels to clear the mind, walked on with bare feet alongside the dog, or just sat on to let the spirit soar even as the body is still.

The rest will eventually be dealt with and if that’s not until tomorrow it’s fine. Momma said so.