First time on a bike.
I had my first all-day motorcycle training session. Trial by fire! My teacher did not fully appreciate my inexperience on the bike. The day began with “Here’s how you start it, there’s the back brake, these are the turn indicators. Now get on, let’s go, and keep up with me.” And off to the highway we went – full speed ahead. We immediately accelerated to 50 mph, and there I was, transcending my motorcycle parking lot experience to the highway in 5 minutes. We pulled over and I told him I have never been that fast on a motorcycle before. He said “good, now keep up,” and again he took off.
We rode on the Ridge Road in Castaic, CA which parallels Interstate 5 at the Grapevine. It is the old two-lane highway linking Los Angeles to Bakersfield. 500 foot drop-offs with no guard rail – Oh, and did I say – RAINING!!! Slicker than snot. I cut my first bike tooth on a wet slippery death road. We practiced basic techniques and I also found out I had all of the best gear to keep me dry and warm.
After the rain stopped, we did high-speed emergency stops (50+ mph). I eventually could stop the bike from 50 mph in about 20 feet without skidding (thanks ABS brake). We did figure eights, circles, balancing the bike at slow speed, shifting weight at slow turns, and the greatest concept of all – “look where you want to go – not where you are.” This is an amazing concept for bike riding. By looking beyond where you are and to where you want to go, the bike will automatically go there. You just have to hang on. When your focus in on where you are and what is directly in front of you, you tightening up, start worrying, and loose your direction. Learning to ride a bike is about what is down the road so we can avoid problems in advance through better path selection.
We road mountain roads with endless turns, city streets, diesel coated roadways, intersections, and public parking lots. Eventually we stopped at the curb, and my teacher asked me if I wanted to do everything. I did’t quite know what he meant, so I said sure. He told me to keep up with him. Here took off and suddenly turns onto the freeway. This was not any freeway, it was the Grapevine – Interstate 5 over the mountains into Los Angeles. Six lanes of OH SHIT!!! going as fast as they can down the hill. I popped the bike into 5th gear and found myself between two 18-wheelers, afraid to look down at the speedometer. My heart was in my throat as I gunned the engine past 70 mph to get away from the trucks. I had a pucker moment earlier in the day in the mountains on a rain-slick sharp turn. Going about 35 mph I entered a right-turn a little too fast and my rear tire hit the wet double yellow line and lost it’s grip. I felt my sphincter pucker and jumped into my throat as the bike slid to the left over the painted line, grabbing some fresh pavement, and finally powering me through the turn. I quickly learned to gauge my speed better entering a turn, and of how tight my sphincter could get – and where it could jump. Well, back to the freeway. This was not a split second sphincter moment. It was a 5 mile, in my throat, I can’t breath, didn’t know my asshole could get into my mouth, hyperventilating, neck choker. I felt the grooves in the pavement trying to take over the steering as the wind gusts from the other trucks and cars tried to throw me off the road. We pulled off a couple of exits later and I was almost in adrenaline overload. I have never been so terrified and thrilled at the same time. I thought about my frightening yet exhilarating experience of jumping out of a plane many years ago. But that was much safer. You had a guy on your back making sure you were safe. There was no guy on my back this time – just me.
We road back and forth on the Ridge Road many times. Each time I got more confident. We ended the day with the final mountain assault. My teacher took off ahead and I followed. After six hours of riding, I finally had enough skill to relax a little and sink into the bike. I rode the entire route at a faster speed without touching the brakes. I looked where I wanted to go – and the bike went there. I entered turns with a more relaxed control. And if during a turn it started to feel out of control, I pushed down on the handle bar, gave it a little more throttle, and laid the bike down into the turn. I started to feel what “dancing” with the bike was about.
My first day on a motorcycle was thrilling and frightening. I learned basic skills and techniques and what I need to practice. The learning curve was steep and the trial was by fire. But, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.