Monday, April 24, 2006

What becomes of them?

It's been a busy last couple of days on top of a weekend filled with work as an instructor. I'm still working on Part 2 of "Good Enough?". It will be done soon. More than likely it will extend to three parts before I'm done.

My co-workers are starting to express envy about my mode of travel now that the sun has been shining so nicely in the afternoons. A couple of them were going golfing tonight. I told them they could relax their way, and I'd relax in my own way. It certainly is a blessing to go outside and see that beautiful, gleaming bike ready to play. There's very little that's more relaxing and pleasurable than a ride on lonely back roads. Being bathed in warm sunshine and having beautiful things to look at fills me with serenity not possible in a cage.

There was a large group of deer in a little grove of trees next to the road. There's no underbrush, just foot-high grass under the trees. I didn't spot the buck, just some does and fawns. They were relaxing in the shade of the trees. A couple of them were "taking care of business", if you know what I mean. By the way, did you know that does squat like female dogs when they urinate? Just a free natural history lesson. I know, the mind reels at the awesome bargain. The adventure of riding combined with learning about wildlife!

I want to go back to my weekend of teaching with this post. It counts because I commuted 30 miles each way both Saturday and Sunday.

Needless to say, the weather cooperated wonderfully. Learning seems to be so much easier in favorable conditions. As much as I hate rain, though, I almost prefer that my new riders get a feeling for riding in it right from the start. Kind of like facing the enemy and realizing he's not as fearsome as one conjures in the mind.

My partner was Donn, again. If you've read earlier posts, you'll remember him from early February when we both encountered black ice on the way to class. It was also the class where we met Ann. The students were a varied group. All were very personable and the rapport between us and them, as well as among themselves, was really strong. There were two gals. One is married with kids. The family are all dirt bike riders and she wants to venture onto the street, now. The other gal is young and was there with her boyfriend.

Three of the men stood out to me, in particular. One looks like the typical "bad biker dude". Longish white hair, the chin whiskers, the clothes, all of it. All except the attitude, that is. This man was so hungry to learn I had to quit looking at his appearance. It created too much of a mental conflict for me. I don't mean to stereotype folks, but my past experience is my past experience, you know. Anyway, Bill was about as coachable as they come. Not only that, but he listened and improved all weekend. He was so proud of himself by Sunday night. I was too, if I say so myself. If it stays with him, Bill will do just fine out there.

The other two guys that stood out were much older. One is over 70. The other early 60's. As much as I want to see people succeed, the older fellows don't usually do well if they've never ridden or it's been a long time. The oldest had never been on a bike, and the other was looking to relive the days of being powerful and dashing from long ago. The sad truth is that time takes its toll on all of us without exception. The wonderful thing about being on a bike is that it becomes a "freedom machine". We can be whoever or whatever we want to be on the bike. Common sense must always focus on actual reality. The spirit, however, is free to soar.

Both guys did ok. I'm not real comfortable thinking about them on the streets right off. I gently urged them to pick places to ride for a while where the need to multi-task would be less. New or returning riders need to spend a lot of concentration on bike control and inputs and the less distractions, the better, for a while.

I love teaching but there's an odd conflict. You see, I'm not really what you would call a "people person". Oh, the rapport I get with a class is great. There's a dynamic synergism that totally energizes me. Students often make comments that it seems I have as much fun as they do and they're right. It's just that, after the class is over, I still care about them but have no real urge to keep in touch. Once in a while we encounter students and it's great to hear how things have been for them. The close-knit tightness between instructors is a blessing, too. It's just that I'm happy riding by myself or with another trusted friend. Not into having to have social contact all the time. It works for some folks, it's just not me. Katie's my best pal and we're pretty self-sufficient.

One does always wonder how the riding goes for students long term, though. Whatever becomes of them? I suspect most remain social and recreational riders and their mileage is limited. How long does the training stay with them? Most riders who go through a beginning class won't ever come back for more training. My time with them only builds a foundation. So much can happen in the process of constructing the rest of the building. I can only hope for the best and take comfort in the fact that our graduates are WAY UNDER REPRESENTED in the statistics. I only know of one of my students who has been killed on a bike.

This lady was the wife of an instructor whom I trained. Suzy wanted to take the class. Her husband worked it out for me to be her instructor. It was a huge honor. Suzy took to riding like she was born to it. After graduating she bought a Shadow VLX 600 and rode the wheels off it. Suzy started her own riding club comprised of church members where she attended. She called the group the "Angel Wing Riders". Suzy and Steven spent many weekends riding with friends.

A year ago this month Suzy and Steven participated in the Oregon 250 ride. They stopped in Hood River along the Columbia River Gorge. It's the same highway I travelled on a couple of weeks ago when I went to Richland, Washington. The couple shared a big piece of peanut butter pie and then saddled up for the last leg of the ride. Not long later, a lone rider was ahead of them. Steven was next in line on the 'Wing. Suzy was at the tail on her trusty Shadow. On their left was a large rock cliff looming up over the river. Some shale started sliding which dislodged other rocks which, in turn, bounced down off the hill onto the roadway. Steven had some small bits hit his fairing. Looking in his mirror he saw Suzy slump on her bike, then fall off while the bike tumbled down the road. Horrified, he stopped his bike, just letting it fall. Suzy was already gone from a fist-sized rock that had slammed into her chest.

I consider an accident like this to be the "Finger of God". Absolutely unavoidable. I was not there to see it. Steven sent me an e-mail that night telling me what happened. I guess because I was his mentor and Suzy's teacher he wanted to share his heart with me. Many, many of his fellow instructors went to Suzy's funeral. As Suzy would have wanted it, the funeral was a celebration of her life and impish humor. Steven is doing ok but I'm sure he still misses Suzy terribly.

The e-mail to me started like this. "Today I lost my best friend". Wherever you are, Suzy, may the roads be twisty, the bike nimble, and the traffic light.

You'll have to excuse me, now. I have to go hug Katie.



Steve Williams said...


Your reference to Suzy's accident and the "finger of God" reminds me of how fragile and vulnerable we are not only on the road but in life. You touch on everything in this post---freedom, aging, acceptance, death, and learning. All part of living.

I like to think that riding releases some part of us that makes us willing to look at these things.


Anonymous said...


I didn't really set out to cover all the bases in this post. Looking at it in light of your comment, I do have a couple of "windows on the world". Motorcycling has been a big one for me. Maybe I should write a book "Everything I needed to know about life I learned on a motorcycle".


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your blogs - I enjoy reading them, although "enjoy" is not quite the word for this one as it is very moving. I guess Steven would have questioned whether it would have been better if Suzy had not learned to ride in the first place, but being alive is a risk in itself and "life is for living".

Anonymous said...

Thanks for dropping the comment and for the kind words. That's always the big question, isn't it? "Safe" vs. "Living". Since I have no idea of what my eventuality will be, I've chosen to live and love while I can. Not recklessly, nor timidly.

I'm sure at this point that Steven would rather not have had Suzy ride if it meant she would still be here. On the other hand, Suzy was full of life and it bubbled out all over. Steven's love for her wouldn't have allowed him to suppress her.

And around we go.


Anonymous said...

I remember when Suzi Started riding; and how proud Steve was of her. Steve told me of her learning progress and she was a great rider for someone who hadn't been at it that long
As a friend of Suzi and Steve's I wanted to clairify a few facts on the accident. Suzi and Steve did do the RC-250, but it was the RC-500 ride that took her from us. They were both on their 2 new Honda VTX 1300's when the accident happened. Steve did put his kickstand down, but Susi's bike , riderless, bounced down the guardrail and struck his bike, Her beloved Shadow was at the funeral.
Steve is doing OK, Semi retired and managing the business. Last Saturday we both completed the RC-500, as a tribute to Suzi and because I hadn't finished the RC-2004 ride because a biker struck me.
Steve, Suzi, My Brother and I all did the 2003 RC-500; had a blast.
We still had some rides planned.
PS; Give him a call

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the commnet and corrections. I haven't seen Steve since Christmas. I will call him. He's an awesome guy! Did I see you at the funeral?


Anonymous said...

Ironically; Steve had mentioned you to me in the past your the instructor with the st1100! Steve hired me 5 years ago at the tire place... And the ST is my dream bike.. I was at the funeral, but it was a blur to me, I don't take things like that to well.
He now has another VTX; and you should ask him about his New bike--2006 Suzuki and fast.
Steve H.