It was once said by Soren Kierkegaard that, ” Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards”. I am finding more meaning in that statement now than ever. As I continue to look back on the events in my life, I am getting a better grip on who I am and how those events have shaped me into the person I am today. When an event happens good or bad, it isn’t always easy to understand the magnitude of it at the time, how it can change the entire course of your life, how each and every choice, big or small, can change everything.
With this blog series, Moto Memoirs, I am going to dive in to the past of how moto life and an 11 mile section of road have impacted me. Taking part in the Women’s Motorcycle Tours online conference on reinvention, and speaking publicly about my accident(s) and how I have dealt with it mentally for the first time, really pushed me to think about the past in ways I never have before. I learned a few new things about myself during the process, things that inspired me to start writing it all down.
I have gone back and forth for years on if I should write a blog, what it would be about, would anyone find it interesting enough to read, what would others think of me, would anyone even care? It occurred to me that I have to put all of that to the side and if I want to write, I should write. This is an opportunity for me to learn about and improve myself, to see the beauty that can come from pain, to let go of the hurt, let go of the anger, to let go of the things that have been holding me back from living life.
I think it is important to know where I started and who I was to fully understand the emotions and life changes that came after a head-on collision with another motorcyclist in Feb. 2008 and the series of events that followed, leading me to grow into the person I am today. Being part of the Women’s Motorcycle Tours online conference and sharing the emotional side of my experience recently, really made me look at my life and how it has changed over the past 12 years since the accident happened, and how it went far beyond riding a motorcycle.
I have been thinking back to what my very first experience ever on a motorcycle was, trying my best to recall the details. Do you ever start thinking about the past and have such scattered memories that you start to question if the memories are even real at this point? I’ve had this memory for a very long time, so we’ll go with the assumption that it is real.
In the 80’s us kids often walked up and down the road, visiting with family. It’s pretty rural here, with little traffic, and anytime we were called home or our parents were checking on us, my mom would go out on the porch and call out our names, her voice echoing off the mountains for us to hear and us to answer back, so she knew we were ok. One day I had followed my brother and cousins a ways down the road from our house, we must have been out of range to hear our mother’s calls, about a mile away, so an older cousin was sent out on his dirtbike to find us. I had watched my cousins ride the bike with marvel as they were able to go on and off-road with it, up hills, down hills, there didn’t seem to be anything that could stop it, it could go anywhere. I was the youngest and smallest of the group, probably around 6 or 7 years old at the time, and had trouble keeping pace with the older kids back up the hill, so I was hoisted up on to the tank of the bike by my cousin, being told to watch my legs and not burn them. I can remember my excitement as he rolled on the throttle of the bike, I held on to the tank with all my might and away we went. I can remember the feeling of the wind in my face and I’m pretty sure I pleaded with him to go faster, I’ve always been a little speed demon. I closed my watery eyes and bowed my head down a bit, but I could still feel the rush of the wind. I don’t know how fast or slow we were going, everything at that age seems way more dramatic than it probably was. I probably would have told you we were doing 100mph, when we were actually doing 10-15 mph. That first experience left me with the feeling of wanting more of that freedom.
Later on my grandfather had some kind of small old motorcycle with chunky tires on it, that the older cousins would take turns riding through the fields, as usual I was the youngest of the group, and probably the most accident prone, so I didn’t get to take part in it. After the motor finally gave up, it was removed, leaving the bike looking like a skeleton of what it used to be. While I do not recall ever riding it while it was running, I had plenty of seat time on it afterwards. Us younger kids, would push each other up and down the driveway on that bare motorcycle frame on wheels. We’d get going fast enough to wobble a few feet, while using all our energy to thrust all our weight forward, hoping to give the bike enough momentum to roll just a little further. It’s a good thing there wasn’t a hill or any kind of incline that we could get to, you know we would have been railing down it like a runaway train.
With the rise of the internet, the opening of the Cherohala Skyway, and the growing awareness of Hwy 129 and it starting to be referred to as “The Dragon” in the mid 90’s, I recall starting to see more motorcyclists around town. I was on the bus when some guys on sportbikes in a parking lot caught my eye. I can remember telling my friends that I would own and ride one of those things someday.
After those brief encounters with two wheels as a kid, years would go by before I would swing my leg over another motorcycle. As my high school years came to an end, I was doing some community college classes and looking at my life options, it was on to the next chapter in life. I could stay in my hometown or move just outside of Atlanta with friends, at this point in my life I had not been outside of my hometown very much, so a move to Atlanta would be a huge leap. I had often dreamed about leaving this town behind, in search of a big city or a beach, so this offer to move close to Atlanta was coming at the just the right time.
After stopping for a few groceries one day, I spotted some friends from high school at the edge of the parking lot, on their sportbikes. After hanging around and talking for a bit, one of them offered to take me for a ride and who would I be to reject their offer? Not having my own helmet, one of the other guys kindly let me borrow his. There I stood, in my sleeveless orange shirt, velour track pants, and flip flops. I pulled the helmet onto my head and over my ears. I had never strapped a full face helmet on my head, so fastening it on was a challenge I had not encountered before. After fumbling with it on my own and not being able to make progress, one of the guys stepped in and helped walk me through how to run the strap through the loops and tighten it down. With the helmet securely in place, I climbed on to the back of the bike, and was given some brief instructions and we were ready to go.
I will say that I am very fortunate to have had a really great friend that didn’t try to scare me or show off with me on the back. As we gently rolled out of the Ingles parking lot and on to the main road, he clicked smoothly up through the gears, I could feel the wind on my bare arms, it was an unusually warm day that spring. As we got up to the speed limit I grew more concerned about losing my flip flops and gripped them as tight as I could with my toes. I can remember looking down to make sure I still had them on and seeing the pavement rush by beneath us, then looking up and seeing the sky all around. Being able to look around and see everything, not being protected by a cage around me, I felt exposed, I felt free. We made a short loop around town and back to the parking lot where the others were waiting. That ride rekindled the flame of my desire to ride on my own. After I managed to wrestle the helmet off my head, we talked a bit about my impending move south. That’s when it is mentioned that there was a job opening at Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort, that place where all the motorcyclist hung out.
At 19 years old, you have so many possibilities ahead of you. I was closer to my dream of living in a big city, I practically had one foot already out the door. Now with a new opportunity before me to work at a motorcycle resort that was close by, I sat down with my parents and laid out my desired options, neither of which they were very pleased with, their image of what a biker was at the time wasn’t the greatest. With the rowdy motorcycle rallies that would go on at the time in Cherokee, the stories of topless biker women, fights, and the abundance of noise, didn’t paint the best picture of a motorcyclist. But if it meant me staying at home just a little while longer, they reluctantly agreed that I could put in an application at Deals Gap.
On a rainy day in April of 2003 I rifled through my brother’s clothes, looking for the Harley Davidson shirt that he had, I thought it would give me more street cred if I walked in with a shirt with a biker logo on it. With my loosely fitting biker shirt on and an air of confidence I walked in the door of the Deals Gap store for the first time. As I first stepped in out of the rain, I noticed a tile dragon mosaic on the floor, and stopped for a second to admire the art work. When I finally pulled my gaze away from the dragon on the floor, I’m greeted by a fella in the back, barely looking up from behind his desk and pointing to his right, saying “The women’s restroom is right there”. I kind of chuckled to myself and injected that I was not there for the restroom, that I was there for a job application.
With the application filled out and submitted, I waited, which way would life take me, would it be the mountains or the city?