Riding with my tribe

I am going to set aside the news of the day to keep writing about this trip. I wish I hadn’t looked, actually. I wish I could take back the last few minutes I spent perusing the news. So let’s just set that aside for now, maybe I will reexamine it later, somehow.

So let’s talk about motorcycles.

A motorcycle is a machine that you have to meld with to use properly. You shift gears, it talks to you, you learn what speed works, you lean in and around it, you shift this way and that. Somehow it’s all physics which is still somewhat baffling to me. You swing around turns with your neck out, you lean further, you roll on the throttle. 

I can say a million things about motorcycles but honestly? You just have to ride one to understand. It’s borderline magic. As Karen Thomson, one of our ride leaders said, you have to “send your energy” where it wants to go. You have to look deep into the landscape to navigate your way through. You can’t look at where you’re about to go; you have to look beyond it. Your vision encapsulates your periphery, pushed out and all-knowing. Don’t stare at the pothole or you’ll go in the pothole. You know it’s there, so no need to look at it. Look out onto the crest of the hill, find the sweet spot to fixate on, lock into the turn, and a steady, vibrating hummmm starts to fill the space. It’s mesmerizing, but yet you’re the most alert you’ve ever been. It’s not unlike meditation, but with the other half of your brain. 

Actually I did have a mantra I was using last week as I was preparing for all this and was feeling out-of-control-terrified. It’s om dum durgayei namaha, a protective and powerful mantra conjuring Durga, the woman riding on the tiger. Funnily, there is a woman named Durga on this trip, who is awesome. (Of course there is a woman named Durga on this trip, who is awesome.)

Although today was almost all highway riding, it was extremely rad riding. Our group ended up splitting into two smaller groups, making it easier to travel. There were only five of us, and our leader was Erin Sills, who just so happens to hold a couple world records for speed – via “streamliner” motorcycle (that long thing that looks like a rocket that people race out on the salt flats) as well as a “production” motorcycle (literally a machine that is off the assembly line). Erin has a remarkable ability to ride standing up on her pegs, bobbing and weaving with supreme grace. Watching her ride is the best education you can get as a new rider. And she is really fun to follow! Fast and peppy but safe. The roads and obstacles were varied and she breezed through it, us riding her coattails. And at lunch she told us about racing, us gathered around the small table hanging onto her every word. Turns out she started riding when she was 35, the same age as me, which is interesting. 

She possesses a sparkly kind of wisdom and poise which makes her seem ageless, and remains open and humble in a way 99% of people aren’t, ever. Needless to say, it’s really awesome to hang out with her. She has lived through some difficult times in the recent past, as she lost her husband Andy last year, but reminds us that life is about the journey, not the destination. She dedicates this ride to Andy, his family, and the motorcycle community. 

And that’s not all! Stuck in formation to Erin’s side, moving like they were connected through all the turns and lane changes, is a woman named Holly Ralph. Holly rode down from Ontario on a 250. Holly selects her gear carefully, wearing a vest which inflates into an air bag on impact. Holly uses the latest weather apps I’ve never heard of. Holly is the Vice President of the Canadian Motorcycle Association. Holly has been riding since well before I was born. Holly has been living with Celiac’s and Osteoporosis. Holly is rumored to be 72.

Holly never complains, is never late, and never lags behind. She warned the group that she can only go 70 on a hill, but somehow that hasn’t hindered her… at all. She doesn’t have mobility in her right ankle, so can only use her hand brake. She prefers to ride alone (except this time), and has a GPS tracker so her friends can see her progress and make bets on how long it will take her to reach her destination. She eats one date – “Only one!” – every time we stop to keep her energy up. 

Holly has some shit figured out.