Friday, March 13, 2009

Rockmoto Blog #7 - "Day 1" -

February 28, 2009

After a leisurely morning making (and eating) popovers, I began running around town looking for some new boots. I was confident they’d have something good for me at a nearby Big 5, but they had almost no selection in my size and the ones they had, didn’t fit my foot well. I race to Target where I score some water and gatorade, but strike out again on the boots. I don’t know what to do and time is ticking down.

I’m taking an afternoon/evening class because it’s the only one they had space in, but we still have to be there at 3:30pm for Jess to set up. We also have to walk the dog and time just keeps slipping away as I make PB&J sandwiches for our nourishment during the breaks. It’s a very first day of school vibe - to the point where as I stuff the sandwiches into little baggies, suddenly I feel like a someone’s mom. Weird. We head out, but we’re really running late. Tension rises and eventually we give up on getting boots as well as a long and pretty walk for the dog. Jess seems mad at me for poor time management and I don’t know how to make things better.

This is not a good way to begin.

We get to the VA where the course is taught and we walk her dog Memphis for 20 minutes. Then Jess starts the set up while I continue to walk Memphis.

Eventually, I come over, pull on my cowboy boots and strut over to the container where everyone’s meeting. They keep the bikes and all the gear in an actual 12’x50’ steel shipping container. Jess and Amanda are checking people in, looking official, wearing their bright red “RIDER COACH” shirts. She told me they changed the course format about 5 years ago and shifted the nomenclature from “instructor” to “coach”. ‘Instructors’ were too scary it seems. It was intimidating enough for most people just to be getting on a bike for the first time. ‘Coach’ seemed more like they were helping you, but I still think it sounds like it’s someone who’s looking to cut you from the team.

We’re instructed to get a pair of gloves, helmet and bandana. While everyone else has to grab garden-style ‘work gloves’ they supplied, I felt pretty nifty with my new mitts. I grab a bandana whose purpose is to save your head from grinding into the grease of the last few hundred people who wore that helmet. In fact, the Westside Motorcycle Academy is so popular, they have 1 course during the week and 3 courses every weekend – meaning the first group starts at 6AM, the next at 11AM and we’re at 4pm. This means that helmet’s been on someone’s head for the last 10 hours, not to mention the hundreds of people before them the last 3 years. Despite that, the helmets don’t smell at all. They seem surprisingly fresh. I grab a bandana anyway and when I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror. I think I look like Aaron Eckhart’s Harley-riding boyfriend character from “Erin Brokovitch”. Somehow the relationship seems oddly parallel even though in the movie HE rides and she doesn’t.

Jessica and Amanda call us over for a quick talk. Seeing my girl strut out there in her riding boots, high-end Kushatani racing pants, aviator glasses and clipboard was impressive. She looked more like a NASA flight instructor for astronauts-in-training than an Earth-bound bike coach.

Soon enough, we head over to the bikes. The first exercise is a dry run. We just gear up, sit on the bike and practice all the controls so your hands and feet get to know where everything is.

The magic happens when I put on the helmet. My first experience wearing a helmet was little league. I was just six and played catcher with my dad’s old mitt. It was a dark chocolate leather that smelled like old time baseball. It had a small pocket unlike the newer 1976 mitts at the time. We had to restring that webbing to keep it together, but it was a solid glove. I remember gearing up like I was a knight going into battle. Shin/knee guards, padded chest, and helmet with facemask. The mask smelled like piss and sweat and was far too big for my little face, but it’s extraordinary how having all that protection increases one’s courage. You feel a little invulnerable. “Go ahead throw a speeding ball at my head. It’ll bounce off and I’ll stand right back up.” (Unlike the time I was walking by another team’s practice and some schmuck misses a throw and I catch it right in the eye. I’ve got a seriously colorful shiner for my 2nd grade class photo.)

Like Proust’s madeleine, the helmet has sent me back in time in an instant. I recover, but I’m feeling invincible, nostalgic and fresh. Not a bad combo. Now to get present.

I saddle up on the bike and the sheer physicality sitting on it is remarkable. It’s like riding a horse but more solid. A horse is unpredictable, which is part of why it’s so amazing when you have a beautiful rider and horse perfectly in synch. But a bike? It’s all up to you. It won’t help or hurt you. It just is. And that means it’s all on you to know your machine, know your road and know your abilities - or lack thereof.

It’s such a power position. Legs spread wide across your beast. Feet on the ground – engaged because they have to be in order to balance the bike once the kick-stand is up. Hands up and out in front of you - clutch lever on the left and the throttle on the right. Suddenly, I wonder what the women in the class are feeling. The position is hardly ladylike. Do they feel excitement? Violation? Terror at being given that power? Or is it no different for them as it is for me?

I tell myself these are gendered assumptions, but only 10% of riders are women so there’s got to be a reason or three for that. Our group? 11 people total. 7 men. 4 women. 1 Black. 1 Latino and 1 female Asian. We have two couples including Ali and Jack from the classroom on Monday.

I’m assigned to my bike - a Blue 1992 Honda Nighthawk. It’s a little small for me and I was hoping for one of the Kawasaki Ninja’s – sounds cooler and it’s got a tachometer and body work that makes it look like a real sport bike, even though I think they’re all 250cc bikes (a third of the power of what Jess rides), but I just take what I’m given.

It doesn’t much matter as we’re never going above 18mph and we’re in 2nd gear almost the entire two days. So it’s not like this is about speed. I get comfortable. And it’s the day that speeds away.

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