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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Motorcycles and the Death Wish

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

Around my day job, I’ve become a highly-visible practitioner of the motorcycle arts. Hence, when an issue comes up concerning the sport, I become the recipient of many questions. But nothing generates conversation like an accident.

We humans are seemingly riveted by death and destruction. I think a big part of that is our fascination with the amount of destructive potential that exists in the simple act of driving down the road. Also, there is that sense of compassion for those victims who lives have been turned upside down. A motorcycle accident, however, is particularly horrifying.

In July, a motorcyclist was leaving town on a trip to Tennessee. He didn't get very far. As he approached the entrance to a shopping center, a driver turned left in front of him. The pictures in the paper were horrifying. The bike, a big cruiser, had essentially disintegrated; the rider, killed instantly. Over the next week or so, several concerned colleagues, some who had known the deceased, wanted to talk about that tragedy. Dependably, at some point, those conversations would wind around to the question, "Do you ever worry about accidents?"

I do think about accidents; all responsible riders do. In fact, one of the ways to avoid them is to think through the possibilities and plan for those situations. I don't, however, dwell on death. People burdened with that particular obsession have far more serious issues than traffic.With forethought, planning, and a lot of practice, the average motorcyclist can avoid accidents most of the time. Mostly it's the simple things, like...

· Keeping your machine in good repair, especially tires.
· Riding within your skills and capabilities. Don’t show off.
· Leaving room between you and the car in front at a stoplight, so that if some mullet comes barreling up behind, you have room to escape.
· Constantly scanning, not locking your vision in one quadrant.
· Not riding unless you're completely straight, sober, and awake.
· Keeping space around you when on the road.
· Going slow on unfamiliar roads.
· And staying fully aware of what's around you.

Those eight guidelines can keep a rider out of 80% of the situations that generally result in accidents. But despite the best planning, the most complete training, and the longest experience, there are times when, frankly, nothing will help you. When someone turns left in front of you, there's just not a lot of choices. You're left with three undeniable and unavoidable truths:

You're going to crash.
It's going to hurt.
You may die.

Obviously, Motorcycles are dangerous. But so is life. Three times in the last year, while crossing the Market-Washington Streets intersection, I've come within inches of being flattened by numbskulls who were watching the light instead of the intersection.. During a heart catheterization a few years ago, my heart stopped and I…"went away"… for a while. I've been through earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, a fire, and one moment of absolute clarity facing the business end of a gun barrel.

Clearly, life is full of risks. As Al Pacino said in the movie "Heat," "You can get killed walkin' your doggie!"A person can stay behind locked doors with blankets pulled over their head and feel safe. But, come on; is that really living? By taking reasonable and carefully calculated risks, we grow; we learn; we achieve. That doesn't mean we should be profligate with life. But if we don't push our envelopes from time to time, if we don’t stretch beyond our limits, we'll never achieve our full potential.

I don't ride motorcycles because I have a death wish. I don't ride because I like flaunting danger. I ride because it pushes me out of my box, pulling me away from the pressures of life; forcing me to focus completely on that little moving circle of reality known as "The Ride." There, I find release, exhilaration, and joy. It leaves me mentally cleansed, ready to take another whack at life.I choose to embrace life, even its hazardous parts.

You ask, “Is it worth the risk?”

My answer: “You Betcha.”
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