by Michelle Griep
Shimmering heat waves hovered inches above the asphalt, lending the horizon a life all its own. Temperature and anticipation sent sweaty rivulets trickling down my back. A thumb’s up signaled my turn to go. I rolled on the throttle, fully open, the crescendo of the engine peaking before kicking it up into second gear. Again, I allowed the power to build, to accelerate to its max, a frenzy of RPM’s begging to be released, and then… SLAM on the brakes, rear wheel lock-up skidding a black snake of a path on the road.
“Excellent Michelle,” came the instructor’s words of encouragement over the whine of the motor. Yes. I was a whiz at skidding.
Sound like fun? It didn’t start out that way. After eighteen years of my husband’s coaxing, I signed up to take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) training class. Mid- life crisis? Perhaps. Semi-psychotic from the past decade of raising four children? Absolutely.
My three days of training began on a Friday evening with four solid hours of intense lecture. I’d never been on a motorcycle before and it sounded like a lot to remember. I went home that night with my head spinning.
Saturday morning started bright and early at 7:45 a.m. While most women I knew were lounging about with large mugs of Java, there I stood amidst eleven towering men. We met our drill instructors, Hans (a delightful encourager with a slightly detectable German accent) and Jim (think Clint Eastwood and you’ll have him pegged).
The bikes lined the edge of the parking lot, ready for the choosing. By default, I ended up with a Honda, narrowly avoiding a trampling by the stampede of men. It was a bit on the tall side for my comfort; my feet reached the ground, barely.
We began by walking the bike from one end of the parking lot to the other. On return, we tried a straddle-walk. However, in my case, it resembled a tippy-toe walk. A wobbly tippy-toe walk.
The next step was to partner-up and push your buddy on his bike to the other side and back, then switch. How hard could this be? A walk in the park for the two hundred fifty pound side of beef that propelled me. Who’d have thought I’d ever use labor breathing again in my life, but as I nearly burst a blood vessel on the return route, that ‘hee-ing’ and ‘haw-ing’ sure came in handy.
Successfully completing the preliminaries, we received the go-ahead to rev up our engines and take them for a spin. Thankfully, no one took that literally. We each made it across the pavement without the need for paramedics.
Break time brought a welcome relief from my racing heart. I’d made it this far without tipping over or crashing into anyone. I’d actually only ridden the bike for an accumulated 2.5 minutes, but I felt exhilarated. I could conquer the world. Or so 1 thought.
We spent the rest of the day learning safety skills. After six hours of bike time, we headed back to the classroom for two more hours of instruction. My aching arms and pounding head kept me from understanding our topic – the joy of motorcycling. By the end of class, my head and my body were spinning.
Sunday morning. Dragging my limp body out of bed, the thought crossed my mind that I could simply quit. I was certain God wouldn’t mind if I went to church instead of eight grueling hours of drills on a steaming parking lot. God wouldn’t mind at all, but my husband would.
An amazing thing happened when I once more straddled that bike and took off. Much to my surprise, I felt comfortable. I felt in control. I felt… joy! I didn’t dread the next exercise and I started to relax. Swerving, stopping, precision figure eights… I liked them! I even earned my nickname, the Skid Monster.
After finishing the course that evening, I left with a certificate allowing me to get my license. Hans and Jim successfully taught me to safely ride a motorcycle, no minor accomplishment on their part. My self-esteem increased and I even postponed my mid-life crisis.
I’m now an enthusiastic supporter of MSF training classes. Learning new skills and sharpening existing abilities are sure to take your mind off hot flashes and hormone replacement therapy. Unless you try the full weekend for yourself, you will have no idea of its benefits. Sometimes stretching your limits beyond your comfort zone can be a valuable experience.