Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey
My passion for motorcycles has been well-documented on this blog and through the pages of the Johnstown (PA) Tribune-Democrat. Through many posts and columns, I've tried to verbalize the emotions that this activity has stirred in me through the years.
(A partial list, for those who care in indulge...)
"Eternity and the Road"
"Let's Be Careful Out There"
"Why Do We Ride?"
"Males, Middle Age, and Motorcycles"
"Thinking About a Motorcycle?"
"The Honda PC800 Pacific Coast"
"My Lake Superior Adventure"
"A Wild West Ride on a Wyatt Earp Pilgrimage"
"Bikes and Big Ben"
In May, I had an accident on a bike I had owned about a month. While the injuries were painful, they weren't serious enough to dissuade me from buying another one, a purchase completed June 25th.
The reaction among my family and co-workers was universal dismay. Suddenly, I found that all the sympathy and concern accumulated during my recovery evaporated into an orgy of head-shaking befuddlement. One colleague, who had sent me flowers after the accident, declared, "You only get one bunch of flowers from me, kiddo!"
Intellectually, I can well understand their reaction. After all, why would any reasonable human being go back to an activity or situation that resulted in pain and injury?
(To be honest, I experience the same reaction when I hear or read about women who go back to abusive husbands and boyfriends, but I digress...)
There are actually two things going on here inside my head and heart.
First of all, I've learned how important it is to face fears, instead of fleeing from them. I threw away a lot of my years simply because I didn't want to take risks; playing it safe, always. Life without risk is, in reality, no life at all. It is in taking reasonable chances and calculated risks that we improve ourselves. And while we fail from time to time, failure is not an end in and of itself. It is a learning experience that, when carefully explored and evaluated, leaves us that much smarter for the next attempt.
Secondly, my passion for life on two wheels remains undiminished. In those two years I was bikeless, just the sound of a motorcycle heading down the highway was enough to set me to daydreaming. My poor wife yammered constantly at me to keep my eyes on the road and not look at every bike that went by.
My brief foray in April and May convinced me that I was not yet done with this phase of my life.
So, when I healed up sufficiently, I was back on the market, looking for its replacement. Luckily, I found one very close to the one I wrecked close by and over about a week, I was able to complete the purchase. That first day, I put 90 miles on the machine, reveling once again in the glorious feeling of freedom and adventure. Cheryl rode with me for a little bit, complaining that the seat was too hard (a common complaint with all motorcycle passenger seats, it seems). But at one point, as we rode through the gathering dusk, she sighed and leaning forward, she yelled in my ear, "This is just about perfect."
I knew exactly how she felt. the sun was down, hidden behind a line of summer thunderstorms on the horizon. The air, as it blew past, was soft and comforting, as June in the mountains always is. The busy day was almost over. The quiet of the evening had settled in, bringing with it a welcome sense of peace and tranquility. As a Cheyenne warrior might have described it, I was at the center of my world.
I am manifestly unwilling to let go of those times, of the almost magical catharsis I experience on an evening ride. To walk away from that would be to allow a piece of myself to die.
For those who haven't, or won't experience such a moment, or those who gave it up after an accident or terrifying close call, there's no way I could never articulate the "why" of motorcycling in a way that your heart would be touched the way mine has.
Having briefly experienced death once already, I no longer consider it unknown territory. Simply stated, I don't fear it anymore. But in losing my fear of death, I also lost my fear of life. I embrace all that life has to offer, joy and sadness, triumph and tragedy, accomplishment and adversity. There is, I've discovered, benefit to everything that happens to us, if we but understand that these events, whether good or bad, are merely the mileposts we must pass as we continue on the journey.
I know there will come a day when physically, I'll no longer be able to ride. It is inevitable, as I can do nothing to slow or divert the march of time. Knowing that day is coming only makes each ride that much more meaningful.
Because in the end, the winner is not who has the most toys.
It's who has the fewest regrets.