License to Spill (Roll Me in Bubble Wrap and We’ll Call It a Day)

I can’t believe that I have not written a single word here since 9 July. How am I supposed to keep people interested in this blog if I ignore everything? I have all sorts of great excuses, but I’ll try either to overlook them or regale you with them at a different time. I still have little fireflies of funny memories and sarcastic observations flitting around inside my brain. It’s ding-dang time that I start to capture them and preserve them for posterity before their lights are extinguished.

I am now the proud holder of a valid Virginia M2 Motorcycle Operator’s endorsement. This big mouthful of technical hooey means that I have a motorcycle license. As of today – 17 August. Wheeeee.

Hunky Hubby and I both completed the Apex Basic Riders’ Course. I highly recommend this course, or one like it, to anyone who even THINKS they want to ride a motorcycle. We had four hours of classroom work on Friday night, then we got range time for five+ hours a day yesterday and today. The course culminated with the practical evaluation and a written test. I can proudly say I got 100% on my written test. Sadly, I did not achieve such a high score on the practical evaluation, but I passed…and passed with fewer points assigned than many of my fellow classmates. Zero points is a perfect score. I missed that goal, but I know what to work on in the coming weeks and months.

Apex provides motorcycles for use in their courses. I had a tiny-engined, well-(ab)used KawaskiSuzukiHondaYamaha (KSHY) thing. Under vigorously applied torture I could not tell you the brand or engine size of the bike I rode. All I can tell you is that it had been, at some point in its life, burgundy in color and was number 54. 54 was its number.

One would think that an underpowered and diminutive motorcycle would be easier to ride than the beast that has squatted in my garage for six weeks. I concede that in many cases it was less challenging to operate. However, I wore big H-D biker boots the first day. I have large feet. Adding Frankenboots to these dogs makes them positively gargantuan. My less-than-vast motorcycle riding experience has been on two Harleys. These had running boards on which I could rest said ground-contacting appendages. The KSHY had pegs. Wee, itty, bitty, delicate pegs, which were improbably still attached to the bike after all the abuse they obviously suffered over months or years of range work. Frankenboot-clad hooves did not fit well on miniscule pegs. Therefore, application of the rear brake and smooth shifting was rendered impossible. Then, the clutch had so much slack that finding the friction zone was a study in frustration. Wah, wah, wah.

Hunky Hubby and I initially thought we’d ride our own bikes after class yesterday. During a break in the range action, I imperiously informed him that I would not pollute my muscle memory by riding my bike, then returning to the KSHY. He accused me of using that excuse so I could go home and nap, and then watch the Packers-Rams preseason football game. The nerve. The game didn’t even cross my mind. Much.

I did figure out how to shift and brake on the KSHY. I thoroughly enjoyed the range work, particularly once I returned today with lighter and more nimble boots. I gained all sorts of confidence in low speed maneuvering and was delighted to learn how to corner, swerve, weave and turn correctly. Hunky Hubby looked like a natural and made every exercise look easy. I am proud to announce that, unlike many of our class colleagues, I did not stall, or make huge hairy errors. But, I made lots of little ones, mostly because I did not go fast enough (I know…imagine that!) or because I didn’t look far enough ahead of me when executing a turn.

After class, HH and I decided to go for a ride of our own. I must set the stage: I bought a Softail in December. I didn’t ride it for months, but finally decided that I should know how to operate it before taking the Apex class. I loved the Softail. I think I rode fairly well, for a novice. However, I thought I had bought the wrong bike from the get-go. It didn’t have engine guards, windscreen, saddlebags (or any other storage), music source, etc. I would have spent a couple of thousand dollars to add the accessories I wanted to make this my “forever” bike. And, at my age, I am really looking for my forever bike. After much thought and discussion, I took the Softail back to H-D Quantico and traded up. The dealership rocks and worked with me, so I was happy with the transaction. I rode in one day on a Softail and rode out that afternoon on a Street Glide Special.

White Ninja Batbike
White Ninja Batbike

The Street Glide has everything I want. It has a fairing, not just a wind screen, to mitigate wind buffeting and fatigue. What I didn’t take into consideration the first time I rode it was that the increased weight is in the fairing. For those of you who wonder what it was that sent me to the ER with the hematoma from hell last month, it was my new, beautiful motorcycle. I didn’t negotiate the damn turn leaving the dealership (oh, the embarrassment). The motorcycle started to go down, but I cleverly stopped it with my left shin. Neither the bike nor I hit the ground, but I am here to tell you that it is not wise to stop a falling 810lb machine with your leg. Not wise at all. I’ve been in twice weekly physical therapy for five weeks. The hematoma is about half its original size, but still looks like a big fist is under the skin of my left shin. Not a pretty sight.

Today was the day for me. Newly-licensed, I was itching to ride my gorgeous new bike. HH and I planned a route on winding back roads, and off we went. I admit to being a little cautious (that sounds better than saying I was scared!). I made it to the gas station, then negotiated a four-lane divided parkway, before our right turn onto a great country road. I even got up to the speed limit of 50-whopping-MPH. I was following HH so that I could mimic his moves on turns. He wanted to take a detour to check out the location of a local brewery. Bad idea. Getting to this place was more difficult for me than the gravel road he made me ride on the first time I rode my Softail. To get to the brewery, we had to ride on badly maintained and very crowded, narrow roads. Roads that were full of other people, people who wanted to drink, who were racing to the brewery. I honked to get HH’s attention to get him to stop so I could relay my displeasure at his choice of routes. He pulled to the right and stopped. I pulled to the right, pulled up next to him…and dropped my bike. Right there, in front of hundreds of spectators.

Initiate sailor-mouth. I was swearing a blue streak and hopping up and down in a mixture of indignation and humiliation. A nice man jumped out of his truck to assist. He kept asking me if I was okay, and helped HH right my bike. I felt like saying, “if I weren’t okay, would I be swearing this loudly?!” I am relieved that he didn’t laugh. He and HH got my bike upright (thank goodness for engine guards), and off we went. I went from being cautious to being discouraged and weepy. Not really a pretty combination. HH and I altered our original route and resumed the ride.

I love riding. I love riding on country roads. I can shift up to sixth gear and downshift like a champ. I seem to have difficulty stopping now. I stop like a chump. This is not good. To clarify – I can stop at lights and stop signs. And, earlier in the ride, I stopped at the gas station without incident. The art of stopping gracefully in parking lots eluded me on this ride.

Fast forward a few miles…we pulled into a gas station to take stock of how things were going. I ran into some sand-covered and pock-marked concrete. You can guess the next thing that happened. Parking this beast is not as easy as the same maneuver on the KSHY, nor even as simple and natural as bringing the Softail to a controlled (and upright) halt. Once again, complete strangers rushed to my aid. Once again, I demonstrated my potty-mouth. Loudly and fluently. I looked at HH, told him I wanted to go home, take a shower, have a bucket of wine and remarkably refrained from bursting into frustrated tears right there on the spot.

I re-mounted my beautiful (and surprisingly unscathed) Street Glide to make the drive home. I told HH that he didn’t have to keep under the speed limit – I knew I could ride the speed limit without disaster. The ride home was lovely and uneventful. I negotiated the left turn from the four-lane divided parkway onto the road to our house better than I ever (“ever” being relative) did on my Softail (thank you, Apex). I got through two round-a-bouts on the way home and made the right turn onto our street like a pro. Then, I got to our driveway and dropped it again. From a dead stop. I think they could hear me swear in Wisconsin. I think I should only ride when I don’t have to stop. I think I really needed that bucket of wine.

This time, I flew off the bike and landed in a heap of indignant profanity right on the street. There was a man walking on our private drive. I landed about 20 feet in front of him.  He didn’t even break his stride. As HH rushed down the driveway to my aid, the walking ass-ferret just kept on walking. As if I were invisible. He did have to veer around the motorcycle. He did not utter a word – not even a barely human and minimally polite “are you okay” as he speed-walked around my prone form. When I did get up and dust off my pride, I yelled “…and stay off my *&%#&%)*  street.” I hope the bat rastard heard me.

I learned some things during this pitiful attempt to master my enormous motorcycle:

  • It is better to drop the bike and jump away than to stop it with your shin

o   Harleys are well-made and can take more abuse than the average human body

  • Don’t psych yourself out – the result is not pretty
  • Don’t underestimate how tired you are after being in a strange saddle for twelve hours
  • Don’t relinquish your confidence – show that machine who’s boss. Next time

I need to take this bike to a range and work on slow speed operations. I can and will do it. And, Tommy (the awesome H-D salesman who scratched his head when I traded up), I’m not bringing this one back. This one and I have a lot of riding to do. We’re gonna be buddies. It’ll be years before I succumb to the siren’s call of a trike.

Sometime during my ride today, while I was loving the gentle curves of the wide-open country roads, I realized something. I realized that the little piece of paper I got from Apex was a License to Spill. It’s up to me to use my newfound skills to master my bike.

Until then, just roll me in bubble wrap and we’ll call it a day.

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