This Thursday will be one year anniversary of my first ride on my own ‘steel horse’, my black and gold, 2010 Moto Guzzi V7 Classic. Its not a fancy bike by today’s standards – in fact its downright ‘manual’ in a world of computerized everything. (The thing doesn’t even have a petrol gauge). It doesn’t go very fast (with only 744 cc it barely makes 85 without some groaning at altitude) and with only 48 hp, I won’t be setting any land-speed records anytime..not even downhill with the wind at my back in a hurricane.
But she’s my baby.
I love my bike. I get a thrill just looking at her sitting in the garage. She’s 70’s styled, she’s as comfy as all get out and even when downtown traffic and parking dictate that I ride my -ever-so-practical- scooter, I’m sad to leave her waiting until next time.
She thrums like an older bike should – nothing Japanese or whiny about this baby – and just starting her up makes me heady. Where will we go today? Which new road do I want to explore? What do I want to see? Is it a roller day? A 100 mile plus adventure or just a heads down spin down the freeway so I can access the windy, pine scented twists of the front range? It really doesn’t matter where I end up – the place in my head is always the same. A sense of calm presence, contented peacefulness and all of those niggles that worm around my head have magically disappeared. I’m guaranteed to sleep like a baby.
Its hard to explain to someone who doesn’t ride what it is that compels you to ‘waste’ a few hours, a few days and several tanks of gas riding someplace for no real reason other than to ride. I know I never got it. The idea of driving somewhere – recreationally – for fun? That’s for Texans and people with Ferraris. But riding… its a whole other thing. And don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
No, its not about going fast. Certainly not for me. I’m a nervous nelly on a bike (my instructor thought it was hilarious that I was even trying to learn, and peed his pants when I white knuckled my gear change into 3rd), and to be honest I hope that never changes. I have no desire to wheelie my way into a speeding ticket or instant death. I’m happy at 50, maybe 55. Anything over 70 and I’m grinding my teeth.
Its not about that ‘wind in your hair’ feeling that ‘Easy Rider’ portrayed. My helmet barely lets in oxygen, and my hair is plastered to my head throughout any ride. With all of the gear, its astonishing that you can move at all really – never mind rock a long haircut, some fringed waistcoats and flares. Clearly a movie. Today’s riders – well lets just say its certainly given me insight into why the S&M community embraces leather – this shit is binding.
Its certainly not about looking cool. In thermals, bulky leathers, a helmet that exponentially expands the size of my head to a Halloween pumpkin and shit kicking boots, I’m indiscernible from a dude at any speed. Add in my frequent ‘stalls in 2nd gear’ and ‘bike drops at the gas station’, I couldn’t be any less cool if I was wearing a Learner Sign on my back. I have more street cred in my PJs, and at least I don’t fall over quite as much.
Its not about turning 40 either. Sure its a ‘thing’ that people do crazy shit at mid life, but I’ve been doing crazy shit since I was 18, so I don’t think this is much different. I mean, I hitchhiked from Birmingham to Paris with no money when I was in college. In the middle of the night. By comparison, riding is one of the saner decisions I’ve made. If anything being older has given me the confidence and maturity to do more crazy shit but in a way safer way. (I don’t ride at night, I don’t ride and drink and I certainly don’t hitchhike anywhere anymore). Post 40, I’m less concerned about what people read into it, or what they infer from my actions. And if they want to see the tattoo’d, short haired jock woman getting off her bike as a ‘lesbo dyke’ or a ‘short dude’ (I’ve been called both at gas stations), so be it. (I’ve also been called ‘sweet cheeks’ and ‘hot ass’ while riding.. but hey, who’s counting?). But mid life crisis? Na.. I had mine back in my 30s when I got a divorce, cut off all my hair and decided to start doing what I wanted, not what was expected.
Riding my bike has been about doing something purely for the experience. There is simply no other reason to ride a bike. Its not logical, its not practical and its certainly not a way to save money (though I’ve rationalized all of the above several times over, especially as I’m saving for new shocks).
But again and again I come back to the notion of my sitting in my dotage, clapped out, heavily lined and slightly demented (aka 2015) and having something exciting to remember. I know for sure I don’t want my memories to be about trips to Home Depot or shoes I once owned. Curtains I bought or baby showers I attended. No.. while all of these things are – in the right circumstances – the small things that make up a life, they’re not what I want to remember as I cruise towards my AARP membership. I’m done waiting for someone to come along and join me in my adventures, waiting for a partner to make it easier, less scary, more acceptable.. Life is too short to wait. And I’ve got a long list of stuff I want to experience before my brain wanders off into the never never.
I want to remember fear. And pride. Excitement. Shouting ‘wheeeeee’ inside my helmet while riding down a steep road or just the sound of my breath when I crest the Continental Divide. I need to know that I did stuff. That I can and will do stuff – no matter how old I am, or what people think. Even when its scary or lonely or without rationalization. I rage against being too comfortable in my life, (even as I layer up my reinforced jeans with my silk thermals for a winter ride). Comfort, too much anyway, spells death of adventure. And life without adventure.. in whatever form, isn’t worth living.
Riding – by eliminating the noise, the cushioning and the distractions of today’s transportation – brings all of the small things right back to center stage. Which turns them into big things. The sight of a falcon following a rabbit over a field. The sight of two cyclists creeping up an 11,000ft mountain. Mule deer grazing on the foothills and yes, even the dead coyote on the side of the road that had a really bad day. The fisherman casting and recasting as they enjoy the last days of standing thigh deep in Rocky Mountain runoff. Things I’d never even notice, never mind ponder, as I pass through small towns and open spaces sit with me for miles.
And in a world where we walk and text, talk, Facebook and IM while trying to simultaneously navigate through the streets, spending a few hours noticing the small things, and the big things, isn’t a waste of time at all.
Here’s to riding the steel horse. My own black beauty.