Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Biker babe

I just woke up from an incredible dream in which I was cruising with my friend, Tony, on his Harley up in the Irish Hills.  The sun was just beginning to set and as we drove up route fifty, the clouds overhead turned the most gorgeous shades of crimson and saffron.  Lush landscapes rolled out on either side of the highway and the scent of honeysuckle filled the air.  As I sat behind Tony, the wind whipping into my face, I was smiling...unafraid...deliriously happy.  For it wasn't just a dream, but a continuation of the wonderful ride we took yesterday.
This year has been unfolding as one that has invited me to face my fears.  The small ones.  The bigger ones.  The seemingly inconsequential ones that for some might seem silly.  I'm not afraid of spiders or public speaking or traveling long distances alone, but there are some things that get my stomach roiling just thinking about them. 
And riding a motorcycle has always been in my top ten.
For nearly three years Tony has been trying to convince me to go on a ride with him, but I've always politely declined, remembering the words an E.R. nurse once told me, "We call motorcyclists organ donors."  Her dad, Rick, is a friend of mine, too, and while he's never been in an accident, I've also never taken him up on his offer to hop on the back of his bike either.  One of the fellas who used to live next door souped up Honda motorcycles in his garage and I'd often hear Dean take off down the street, always sending a little prayer after him.  Then, a few hours later, I was thankful when he'd zip up the driveway, home safe after an afternoon's excursion. 
I've known a few people who've been injured while riding -- and mostly because of automobile drivers who don't yield the right of way.  When I was a teenager, the boy across the street was killed in a wreck while riding his motorcycle near the mall, and I'll never forget the sorrow our neighborhood experienced in the aftermath.  To this day, whenever I hear of an accident on the news, I always check to make sure that the person injured wasn't someone I know.
So when Tony asked me last week, "Are you finally going to ride with me this summer?" I was surprised when I replied, "I'll think about it."

But I've been facing my fears a lot lately.  Trying new things.  Stretching my wings.  I've made new friends.  Re-evaluated my work.  I'm choosing new thought patterns and behaviors, and for the most part, things are moving forward.  Still, like anything, it's a practice and I sometimes find myself wanting to revert back to old choices, but thankfully I've been able to reroute myself and remember that to create a healthier life often means I take one step back before I can move forward with confidence.  That's why I'm glad I've had some folks giving me a much-needed shove along the way.
A couple of months ago I went on a blind date, the first in over ten years.  I had promised myself after a string of horrible experiences, particularly the last one (you can read about it here), I would never, ever put myself through it again.  But after a little nudging and prodding from someone I've known since I was in college, I decided to just take a chance.  Still, I was so scared, I nearly threw up in the shower and wanted to call the man I was supposed to meet for dinner to reschedule.  But I got dressed, got myself in the car, and drove to the restaurant, terrified that this would be like all of the other horrible blind dates I've had, but also hoping that it wouldn't. 
Based on past experience, I was prepared that he'd be late or would stand me up.
He wasn't...in fact he was already at the restaurant when I arrived.
I was prepared that he'd rip on me for being a yoga teacher or a vegan or for driving a Honda, as I've had to dodge snarky comments from other men about the choices I've made over the years.
He didn't...in fact, he asked curious questions about all of that...and more.
I was prepared that he'd be just like all the others and have an agenda for he wanted.
But he didn't. 
Within ten minutes I found myself realizing that this could be a brand new experience. 
And it was...sort of.

So yesterday morning, when I woke up to a message from Tony asking me to take a chance and go for a ride with him on his Harley that afternoon, I finally said, "Yes."  After all, I've been on his Rolfing table for the better part of seventeen years and he's known how hard it's been for me to take myself apart and put myself back together again.  Who better to take care of me as I step into yet another new adventure?
All day long while I was working in my office, a niggling fear would rise up.  What if we're in a crash?   Then I remembered Tony's been motorcycling for years.  He's taken safety courses...and we'd be riding his newer bike, one that's more stable for the passenger.  As three o'clock rolled around, I changed into a pair of old jeans, grabbed a jacket, then headed out the door.  I was astonished to find that the only butterflies I experienced were fluttering around in my garden, not in my stomach.  The closer I got to Tony's house, the more excited I became, and when I rounded the corner and saw him warming up the trike, I felt energized, eager to head up into northern Michigan.
Safely helmeted and situated on the backseat, I grabbed the metal bars on either side of my thighs and held on tight as we took off on Sterns Road.  At first I felt like Not-So-Easy-Rider, but Tony kept glancing over his shoulder to make sure I was okay, but always kept his eyes open for other motorcyclists and drivers who weren't watching out for him.  Within a few minutes I got used to the gears shifting and realized it wasn't that much different than being a passenger in someone else's car.
Then again, cars have four doors.
It took a while to not be intimidated by the size of the bike and the roar of the engine.  To trust Tony as he accelerated along the highway.  To just let go into the experience of feeling the wind blow into my face and the freedom of not having a barrier between me and the world around me.  Clicking the sun visor into place, I enjoyed watching the rolling hills of Blissfield and Tecumseh, and within half an hour, instinctively knew how to move my body along with the twists and turns of the back roads.  Honeysuckle filled the air, then the scent of skunk blew past.
"It's an organic ride today," Tony said, laughing.
"Oh, I don't care," I laughed.  "I love skunks."
By the time we rounded Sand Lake, I was startled by the beauty and peacefulness of the water.  "We'll have to come up here and go swimming next time," Tony said. 
As he drove around to the boat dock, I realized for the first time in a long time how limiting my life has been since I returned from California.  For both tangible and intangible reasons, I've had to bide my time while slogging through so many fears, I thought I'd drown in them.  But in watching the sunlight dance on the lake, I realized I'm only just beginning to open up to bigger and better possibilities in the future, one of which includes moving into a new home near forests and a body of water.
On the ride back it was easy to just let go.  Traffic was lighter, so Tony could rev up the engine a bit more and as we cruised at seventy-five miles per hour, I found my hands resting comfortably on my legs, having let go of the metal bars miles back.  There were many times it felt as if I were flying and in an altered state of consciousness as the beauty of the experience transcended everything I had feared. 
It's no wonder Harley enthusiasts say, "Mental health is just a ride away."
When we arrived at Tony's house, he grinned and said something to the effect of "You're going to end up a real biker babe now."
"I have no desire to drive one," I smiled.  "But if you're ever heading up to the hills again and want some company, give me a call."
"I will."
"Now you've spoiled me," I grinned.  "When I get into my car, it'll feel too constricting with those four doors...but I guess I can always roll down the windows."
"Take the helmet and stick your head out of the driver's side and you can pretend you're back on the bike," Tony laughed.  But I know in a few short weeks, we'll be back on the real thing and I won't have to pretend at all.
Just like I know that I don't have to pretend I'm not afraid when I walk through my fears, one by one, knowing new experiences and infinite surprises await me on the other side.