Saturday, October 16, 2010

Riders in the Storm: Chapter Two.

The Story of the Sunday Ride.

     The rain beat down upon the world as a group of weary travelers hid away in the roadside tavern. In a dim corner, two riders sat attentive as the rider with the white helmet began a story about a mishap of a sunday ride:

     “I went on a group ride one Sunday, with people that I didn’t know that well. It’s never really that good an idea, but a friend roped me into it and we were headed down roads I didn’t quite know. The meet up was posted on a rider’s forum so I wasn’t the only stranger in the group. We set out from a gas station just off a curvy road that went through a valley. Twenty or so bikes, all sport bikes. Skill levels varied wildly and it showed. On the first run, some people checked out and others nearly ran off the road. One rider in particular didn’t seem to know where he stood in relation to the rest of the field and attempted to ride up front. He was making bad moves. Crossing yellow lines in turns. Running wide. And he kept trying to pass people who were clearly faster than him. At the next gas station most people didn’t even want to talk to the kid. But I saw one rider pull him aside. Well, pulled him aside in earshot of everyone pumping gas. 
     He told the kid he needed to ease off. He was riding too serious for the road and too fast for his skill level. He said that everybody has to ride their own ride and can’t let ego get in the way of that. It didn’t matter what pace you were running; we would wait up for everybody at stop signs and at the gas station. 
     Whenever one person gives another advice, the person getting the advice has to be open. He has to take the role of the student and consider what’s being said. Everybody that asks for advice does this. But this kid didn’t ask for advice and didn’t want to be a student. For everything the guy said to him, the kid would just give off some ridiculous counter. But the kid didn’t know anything, all he had was the will to go fast and a fragile ego that he had to defend. So the guy finally gave up and just told him that trying too hard to follow pulls you out of your comfort zone and makes it easy to crash. Then the guy went back to his group and waited for the call to ride out. 
     Looking back, I think it was the girl that took that kid down. She hadnt been with us for the whole ride; she rolled up while we were all getting gas. And she was quite good. I guess the kid didn’t like the idea of a girl being better than him, because when she went into a sweeper at full speed, he did the same. Except this particular turn had a decreasing radius and the kid couldn’t cope. He went of the road into the trees and when I finally passed by all I saw was a cloud of dust and some pieces of his bike. 
     As it turns out, the kid himself had avoided serious harm. This is not to say that he didn’t need an ambulance. But I’m sure his arms eventually healed. We spent a lot of time dealing with that situation and by the end of it only a few of us were still in the mood to ride. So we decided to turn back. It was on the ride home that the second accident happened. 
     One of the riders up ahead went down in a nasty crash. To us, it looked like he slammed on the brakes and endoed down the road at full speed. We learned later that there had been a recall on the rims of his bike because the spokes had a tendency to buckle at speed. He broke several bones, including both his femurs. We found one of his rims a hundred yards away. Funny thing was, the guy that crashed was the same guy who had lectured the kid about riding within his limits.
     There is an old proverb that says: ‘the wife of a careless man is almost a widow’. I think the truth is that the wife of any man who’s not already dead is almost a widow. We forget that because we have doctors and backup plans and traction control, but the forces that want us wrecked on the side of the road reach out for all of us and don’t care who gets caught. Maybe the only thing that matters is that we get up and keep moving. Or maybe that is the lie that careful people tell themselves in order for their lives to have meaning. So you have to wonder: if a wreckless man rides for twenty years and dies in a crash while a careful man rides for twenty years and dies of cancer, what is the difference? I think the closer to the end that you get the less difference any of it makes. But from here, where we can’t see how things will end up, we use caution. It’s just that caution can’t really ever count for that much on a motorbike. Maybe even in life.
     Yeah, so after that day I thought a lot about what it means to be safe. And I figured that I had been conflating the safety of helmets and turn signals with the safety of not doing anything that could humiliate me or make me uncomfortable. So I tried something different. I have taken jobs I wasn’t sure about, gone places that people don’t even think to visit. If there is an extra mile to travel, I travel it. One day I am going to get caught out anyway, you know? And if that day comes twenty years from now, I just need to know that I wasn’t the one that held me back from getting a fast lap time.”
  
     The men at the table sat in thought as a waitress came around to collect their empty glasses. Each man understood the meaning of this tale, and while none spoke, each thought back to the moment when they had a similar realization. The man with the black helmet thought back to the time he himself crashed at a racetrack. The man with the green helmet remembered a memorial ride he went on for a rider who died in a slow speed collision. Every rider can chart the mortal moment when riding changed from a hobby to a life commitment, when the motorcycle merged with life itself. It is a revelation marked by stitches, casts and tombstones. 
     But no rider present was foolish or committed enough to brave the storm whose rains still fell upon the roof above them. So there they sat. And when lightning struck the power grid and all electricity was lost, they sat in darkness. It was in that dark that the man with the green helmet began his story. 

Continued…

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