The Sovereignty of the Unexpected

by Jaime L. Benshoff

“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves…to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us…” -Buddha

Yeah, I know all about best-selling author Eckhart Tolle’s idea on “pain bodies” and how we are just spiritual entities that should allow experiences to flow through our physical selves like so many cirrus clouds….obviously Mr. Tolle has never ridden a motorcycle and I’d hazard a guess that he has never laid one down.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me tell you how I came to be a “biker chick.” Men may have a crisis around midlife, but I have been having one since the early 1980’s. On a lark, I signed up to take the motorcycle safety instruction through St. Paul College in the fall of 2008. I was just getting my toe in the water, so to speak, but to my surprise I enjoyed the teaching style structured to appeal to adult learners, as well as the healthy mix of information, emphasis on safety, and attention to student aptitude.

My classmates and I were all nervy about the process and with encouragement as well as reprimands (wow, can those rider coaches yell across a large parking lot!) our teachers never missed a popped clutch or an open choke. When we took to the obstacle course on test day, our group celebrated each small achievement, each gradual improvement.

I passed! Next, I found a small Yamaha V-Star Classic, which I purchased, and my boyfriend, Brian, with his big Harley and loud pipes (as well as the ones on the motorcycle) and I began taking small forays around town in order to finesse my balance and comfort levels with starts and stops, traffic and speed.

Once spring came, we relished riding together a lot; I enjoyed my cruises to work, learned about packing rain gear at all times, discovered the “joys” of June bugs, the silken aroma of lilacs, the value of a face shield during cottonwood season, and from bitter, bitter experience, how long to hold your breath as you drive past a bloater.

I looked with envy at the cool girls driving their motorcycles here and there, sporting tank tops and bandanas, their golden tans matching their golden confidence. Then I donned my black DOT helmet and secured the chin strap, snapped my leather coat shut, and double knotted my sturdy boots. I knew I was too inexperienced to risk a ride without protective equipment; in fact, my rider coaches’ admonishments rang in my ears every time I turned the ignition switch on that V-Star.

August 1st was no different, and we cruised out to Hugo. It was a Saturday, sunny and free, and there is nothing better than hours to just ride the wind on back roads. I was accelerating after a stop sign, maybe 25 miles-an-hour in a forty mile-an-hour zone. Road crews had left orange barrels in the center island marking where some grading was being done. When the orange barrel let loose its moorings due to a wind gust, I registered it; tried to calculate if I could get behind it as it tumbled directly toward me. Then no, that isn’t going to work, and thought to try to outrun its fifty gallon size. In those instances you don’t always have the luxury of a choice, and the barrel collided with my bike, locking up the front wheel.

I had absolutely no control, was trying to slow myself down by depressing the rear brake, and rode the bike down. I was dragged a few feet, and finally came to a halt. The cycle engine was still racing. Cars stopped, people appeared to help, someone turned off the motorcycle engine to prevent a fire from the leaking gas, someone else dislodged the orange barrel from the front wheel, two more people were blocking traffic and directing it around me, another motorcyclist ran to help me stand up, and within minutes a Lino Lakes police officer arrived to take control of the scene.

I was shaking but in one piece and provided my permit and license and insurance information. We assessed the damage to my motorcycle, which surprisingly was not extensive. The officer told me he rides a Gold Wing and was very kind. “Don’t you let this stop you from enjoying your motorcycle,” he said as he left.

I climbed back on the V-star, she started up and Brian helped me check out the clutch, brake lights, turn lights, front forks, tire pressure; everything seemed to be in working order. On the drive home I gave wide berth to the road construction cones and barrels, perhaps driving ten miles slower than the posted speed limit, and I arrived home in one, albeit painful, piece.

When I looked at my protective clothing, once safely again in my living room, I wept. I study karate so learning to fall is part of our training, and I had utilized that muscle memory when riding the bike down. Hence my hip and my shoulder took the brunt of the impact; my jeans were shredded where I had been dragged across the pavement, the thick hide on my coat was peeling, the palm of my left leather glove was worn clean through and the outside of my thick riding boots had sustained deep grooves from being scraped. I am bruised and stiff, but nothing was broken or even sprained.

The problem isn’t one of construction barrels, or proper helmeting, or driving defensively; the problem is one of respect: respecting the sovereignty of the unexpected. Like most people, I don’t like to think on that; viewing the nightly newscast from a safe distance on one’s sofa is not enough to expose us to the deep acceptance required to internalize that we are frail, we are vulnerable, in a word: human. My “pain body”, as Tolle would call it, is reminding me of how frail I am these days. Looking back, I can now see my rider coaches at the Motorcycle Safety class had conveyed a respect for that sovereignty as well.

But then…

The road beckons, the clouds part, and the cycle rumbles to life. I have new leathers, a new respect, and a chiropractor on speed dial. As my Irish grandfather would say: the pipes, the pipes are calling….


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