Tuesday was a beautiful, almost spring day. It was sunny, the temperature was 65, and a new crop of bugs was hitting me in the face. You see, I was on my last motorcycle ride where, at the end of the ride, I would sell my bike to Classic Iron, one of the largest used motorcycle dealers on the east coast.
Over my most recent 14 years of motorcycling experience, I’ve had two accidents. One in 2009. And another in 2014. The first accident wasn’t my fault. A guy pulled out in front of me. The second accident may have been my fault — I just don’t remember. I suffered a concussion that led to five hours of lost memory. After the alleged ambulance ride and subsequent visit to the ER, which I do not recall, I reluctantly concluded that I wanted to hang onto my future memory and that it was time to sell the bike.
Once again, I found myself facing a life transition.
Now I don’t pretend that this life transition was as significant as retiring from a job or moving to a new town. But symbolically, it represented much more than just the sale of a motorcycle. Here’s why.
First, I will no longer experience, well, the experience of riding. When I think about what it’s like, I’m reminded of my favorite quote from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.
In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it, you don’t realize that through that car window, everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.
On a cycle, the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.
While many of my non-motorcyclist friends don’t really understand the attraction of motorcycling, it is an extraordinary experience. The sun is on your back, the wind is in your face and the smells are constantly changing. It’s a multi-sensory experience. In fact, on my last ride, I passed a dairy farm and the smell of manure enveloped me. This might be unappealing to most people but if you grew up near a farm, as I did, you understand the appeal of this familiar pungent odor. It was a fond nasal memory and once again thrust me into the surrounding scene.
Second, I will not longer experience the exhilaration of risk. Let’s be clear. I’m not a frequent risk taker. In fact, I’ve avoided snowboarding over the past few years for fear that I’ll break a hip. But I loved the rush I got from accelerating down a highway or leaning into the turn of a twisty mountain road. The exhilaration made me feel alive. When I compare that experience to reading a book, one of my other loves, I realize that quickly turning a page is just not as exhilarating.
Lastly, I am no longer in the “club.” Every time another motorcycle rider passed me, we exchanged “the wave.” It wasn’t a rebellious raised fist nor was it a complicated series of hand signals. Instead, it was a subtle extension of the left hand that simply meant, “I see you and I’m acknowledging that we’re both in the two-wheeler club.”
Everywhere in the world I traveled, motorcyclists shared this bond. We understood the boring nature of riding in a car and embraced the excitement of riding on two wheels. And best of all, every rider belongs to this group regardless of his or her cultural, racial, or socioeconomic background. The loss of this belonging will be the hardest transition of all.
If we’re being honest, we must understand that transitions are part of our life experience. In fact, our lives started with one of the most traumatic transitions one could imagine — when we came out of the womb. And after that, the transitions come with amazing regularity. Some are very positive, such as the transition from diapers to underpants or from high school to college. Others are more challenging such as being fired from a job or experiencing the death of a loved one. But regardless of the life context, transitions are part of the journey.
I believe that the people who are most successful at managing transitions are the ones who see them for what they are — mileposts on the road of our existence. They neither obsess about them nor do they deny them because they know that transitions make up the totality of where we’ve been and who we are.
My motorcycling days are now in the rearview mirror. And while I regret that I will no longer pick bugs from my teeth, I also realize that I had a wonderful time while it lasted — and I lived through two accidents. That’s significant. And it’s part of who I am.
If you can embrace your particular transitions for what they are, a chapter in your book of life, then I suspect you’ll be able to ride on to your new destinations with a bit more ease.
Because, even on the last ride, we’re going somewhere.
Thanks for the insights. I always thought I would one day own a bike and ride it with joy. But at 61 I feel like learning to meditate better will be a wiser course. I have also always loved thrills that put me on the edge, so many choices have not been the best but the ones that were are life milestones and memory treasures.
I particularly appreciate your suggestion to see transitions for what they are. As a mother of 5 and grandmother of 6, learning to transition and seeing where I “suddenly” find myself, has been helpful with the realization that you point out…we’re going somewhere, let’s get ready for the ride! Thank you.