Sunday, March 24th, 2019 could have been the last day of my life.
I mean, theoretically I could say that about any day because we never know when our number is up, so to speak. But sometimes you flirt with death a little extra hard, and for me, March 24th was one of those days.
I certainly didn’t intend to come so close to death/severe injury that day. We were doing a group motorcycle ride with friends from Tucson to Tombstone to Bisbee and back. It was just a fun ride… not a poker run or fundraiser event or anything. I’m a new-ish rider still. Not a total beginner, but that distance was by far the longest I’d ever done in one day (I think my previous daily record was 70 miles), and it was roads I wasn’t familiar with at all. I’d never even been to Bisbee. I was riding with a group of very experienced riders, some of whom have been riding longer than I’ve been alive. They were kind enough to keep it “at or slightly above” the speed limit for the day so I could keep up, but nobody could have guessed what would have challenged me the most: long, gradual curves in the road.
Most of my riding up to this point had been on city streets. Straight lines and intersections with ninety degree turns. Long, gradual curves and what one friend called “the twisty-turnies” were new to me. And everyone else was doing them at a pretty good speed. After safely making it to Tombstone, I was feeling pretty good about myself. “Yeah, me and my 500cc Aprilia Scarabeo can hang with these Harleys!” was not exactly the thought in my head but was basically how I was feeling about it. I was feeling like a badass biker chick. We had breakfast, hung out, then got back on our bikes to head to Bisbee. Somewhere in between the two, things got out of hand.
In one “twisty-turny” section of the road, we were all cornering to the right at about 65 mph (gradual corner, like I said, so everyone was going pretty fast). I’m still not sure what went wrong, whether it was wind, load balance, or a combination of the two, but suddenly I couldn’t get my bike to turn to the right and started drifting to the left. I drifted so far to the left, in fact, that I was over the center line into the lane where there was oncoming traffic. And then my front wheel started wobbling, which I knew meant I was about to lose control of the bike entirely and go down. At 60-ish mph. With oncoming traffic. I remember thinking, “Shit, I’m gonna go down right here! This is gonna be where it ends.” And I took a deep breath, did the best I could to steady/balance the bike, and managed to start heading back to the right and back over the center line into my proper lane. The oncoming cars, fortunately, had seen me and moved over to their right to give me some space. I made it the rest of the way to Bisbee without incident, but was doing a lot of deep breathing to calm myself… yoga training for the win.
When we got to Bisbee, the two guys who had been riding behind me and saw the whole thing came running over and were like, “We thought you were gonna go down! You scared the shit out of us!” My husband, who had been in front of me in the formation and had seen nothing, overheard and inquired what had happened and I did my best to explain it, with some help from the two guys who had been behind me. The two behind me, Juice and Sparky (road names, obviously), were actually very nice about it. As Sparky said, “You’re not our first newbie rider, and you’re not gonna be the last.” The group as a whole agreed to slow it down a bit in the curves going back, and Sparky, who was immediately behind me in the formation, said, “I’m watching you. You don’t have to stay to the left. If you need the lane, take the lane, and I’ll drop back. Just ride where you feel comfortable.”
When we were getting on our bikes in Bisbee to head back to Tombstone and Tucson, my husband looked at me from where he was on his bike next to mine, and all he said was, “Be safe. I need you.” I had those words in my head all the way home, like they were on repeat.
I totally took Sparky up on his offer on the way home. Especially in the right turns… I don’t know if I was just rattled or what, but every time we did a right turn I moved into the center of the lane to give myself plenty of space and I could always see him there in my mirror, right where he said he’d be. (Juice was directly behind me also riding on the left, so he was harder to see but it was nice to know he was back there all the same.) Despite my rattled nerves, I knew riding in the group with my two “babysitters” behind me was as safe as I was likely to get. And the only wan to get home was to ride there, so ride home I did.
It took me a while to process everything that happened. I think I was still kind of numb to it/in shock when we got to Bisbee, and probably for a while after. It’s just how I’m wired. I never panic in the moment… I stay cool, figure out what I can do or need to do, and do it. Then I panic later after everything’s calm. I didn’t start crying until I was driving to work (in my car) the next day. Like, it took a while to really process how close I came to either being seriously, seriously injured or just not being here anymore.
Once I had processed everything fully (which took a day or two), I realized what had happened was an ego check. I had gotten cocky, thinking I could keep up with the big boys on their Harleys, and I tried to do something that was above my current skill level, and it almost got me killed. Lesson learned. And in case you’re wondering, I do fully intend to keep riding… I renewed my instructional permit yesterday (they’re only good for 7 months, and mine was set to expire 3/31/19) and I plan on taking the MSF course before I apply for my full license. Could I take the MVD’s skills test right now and pass? Probably. I read over what they require and nothing they test on seems out of my current skill set. But a safety course just seems like a good idea (and also it can be an insurance discount), and if you pass the course and get your certificate, the MVD will waive the road test. It’s pricey, but seems worth it.
I realize this post has been very motorcycle-centric, but here comes the tie-in. We get ego checks in fitness/yoga too. Just recently I read an article about a woman who actually ruptured an artery in her neck and had a stroke just from doing an “advanced” yoga pose. People push themselves beyond their abilities and get hurt doing it all the time. Runners do it. Weightlifters do it. Yogis do it. We want to run as fast/as far as our friend the seasoned runner when we’ve only been running for a few weeks. We want to bench 200 like the guy next to us at the gym, but the most we’ve ever done is 100. We want that Instagram-worthy yoga pic of a pose that we’ve never been able to achieve and that our body is totally not ready for. We want to hike up that mountain with our buddies when we haven’t done anything more strenuous than walk from the couch to the fridge in months. We want to keep up with the seasoned motorcycle riders.
My point is that we all want to do things that maybe we aren’t capable of… yet. Just like babies learn to crawl before they walk, we must also learn to gradually increase our abilities. Don’t try to run five miles when the most you’ve ever run is one mile. Instead, run a mile and a half this time. If you’re okay after that, maybe next time try two miles. Maybe you keep running two miles until that gets doable, then you do two and a half. I’m not saying to not challenge yourself or not to push yourself, but I’m saying to push your capacities in smaller, safer increments.
We’ve been teaching our son to drive a car. We did not immediately turn him loose on I-10, because that would be stupid! The day he got his learner’s permit, I let him drive from the mailbox to the house (less than 1/4 mile, only one right-hand turn, never went above 5 mph) and I didn’t even make him try to get the car into the garage… that is a complicated maneuver because we somehow fit two cars and two motorcycles in a two-car garage. The next time we had him drive, we had him do slow laps of an empty parking lot. Then we let him drive home from the parking lot (less than a mile, 25 mph all the way, residential area with low traffic). Then we let him drive on the loop road in Saguaro National Park East (all one way traffic for nine miles, lots of interesting twists and turns and hills, low speed limit). Gradually, we started adding in busier roads with higher speed limits. And I’m sure this makes logical sense to everyone… when he got his permit we didn’t just hand him the keys and have him hop on the interstate. We started him with the very basic elements of driving and gradually built from there. (For the record, he has now driven on I-10, but he doesn’t have a full license yet.)
Slow and steady wins the race, so they say, and I think that is true of many different “races”. Whether it’s learning to drive, improving one’s ability to run/lift, or even in one’s yoga practice… push your limits, but do it slowly and sensibly. Don’t pull a Meagan and immediately try to ride 200 miles with the Harleys.