Riding Bitch

A longtime rider, Jim recently joined a motorcycle club, and it’s taken things to a new level. Together we navigated the proper sewing of his club patch on his new black leather vest, and a stack of papers outlining club rules adorns our front hall table. He even got up early one morning to give his 2003 Harley Davidson Road King (100th anniversary edition, natch) a bath…polished chrome and all.

I have to admit that despite two husbands with bikes, I’ve been very successful at keeping the psychology of the whole biker thing at arms length. They have never felt like death traps to me (yes, we wear helmets), despite some serious attempts by others to convince me otherwise along the way. Nor have I ever had a visceral reaction to missing the opportunity to ride. I’ve just gone when it was requested (assuming, of course, that the clothes and hair were not put at risk – i.e. motorcycle-to-party is out of the question).

Jim, on the other hand, was – dare I say – born to ride. His motorcycle is his primary mode of transportation, as it was to some degree in CT and totally has been since he moved to Hawai‘i. Rain or shine, he is in his happy place when he is on that bike. His saddlebags are perfectly equipped, and a range of Harley accessories (tasteful, I hasten to add) round out his visual commitment. He takes riding very seriously and is long past any risky temptations; indeed, years as a motorcycle safety instructor back in CT are a source of pride for him.

What is it about a guy on a motorcycle that is just so damn sexy? The handling of the heavy machinery? Their closeness with nature? The riskiness of it? The independence? The perceived naughtiness? All I know is you can throw the scariest, grungy, leather-wearing, tattooed guy on a bike, and he instantly becomes appealing. Ditto the opposite. Put a rule-following, buttoned-up, coiffed, and manicured man on one, and bam! Sexy!

Occasionally, Jim has suggested that I might like having a bike of my own. Perhaps that is true, but I am certain I prefer the opportunity to ride pillion or – as some misogynists might say – to ride bitch (so proud to be an American). I’ve spent a considerable amount of time teasing apart why. After all, I’m a (recovering) control freak, so why would I ever choose to put my life in someone else’s hands? I suppose it’s kind of like beating the control out of me – immersion therapy – only I like it and don’t feel any discomfort at all. It actually feels like I’ve been invited to hang out with the cool kids.

Well, one cool kid anyway.

And I don’t want to mess it up. Riding pillion is not without responsibility. No sharp movements, talking (if absolutely necessary) on one side only, leaning into a curve in tandem, and mounting and dismounting to one side. I’m not what you would call petite, so managing my presence on the bike is no easy feat…for either of us.

Recently, when we are riding, I’ve discovered how alive my senses feel. Speed, wind, temperature, views, smells…they come at you all at once. I never really noticed how desensitized I’d become in a car. And because we don’t really communicate verbally when on the go (no microphone-equipped helmets, thankyouverymuch), I experience the sensory feast all by myself. Occasionally, we exchange a knowing squeeze of the leg or shoulder, but for the most part, we exist solitarily during the ride. Turns out this is a strange state of being for me, since apparently I am accustomed to sharing everything I see (and feel, and read, and know) out loud…all the time.

That’s where the power of riding comes in for me. I’ve had little success at holding my thoughts (I know… understatement), and riding with Jim forces my hand. When we arrive at our destination, I’ve had ample opportunity to sift through the pointless chatter in my head and to organize my thoughts. Not only does this make for deeper, “realer” conversation when we finally get to talk, but it also means that he and I meet on a more level playing field. After all, in our resting positions, he is a ready-aim-fire kind of guy, and me… I just fire. When we ride, I feel like I function more like him. And I like it.

A lot.

Not simply because I like Jim and so many of his character traits and choices in life, but also because I truly love being open to doing things differently. After being driven by working to maneuvering everyone and everything into lockstep with me during the better part of my first five decades, it is heavenly to feel free and trusting enough not merely to want to be like somebody else, but to actually want to work at being so. Since I met Jim and developed deep feelings of trust, I’ve been able to see just how debilitating and destructive feelings of inadequacy or envy can be. Both, in their own way, definitely have taken a toll on my personal progress.

Why do we let comparing ourselves to others occupy so much of our brain space? Is it, for me, because I think that in order to “succeed,” I need a clear set of guidelines by which to live? And in the absence of any definitive rules, why do I assign myself the job of writing them and then viewing what others do, see, and feel as indicators of how well I’m doing? And, of course, I don’t just self-assess whether I’m following those dastardly suckers, but I also fight the fight about whether I have crafted them well in the first place. It is no wonder that my desperate grasp on getting it “right” automatically puts me on the defensive; the shame of being wrong is simply too painful.

If all we are looking for is clues on how to be, why don’t we see things we like and say, “gee, I admire that and want to be more like it,” versus fighting so hard to explain why we are not and should not be? Or worse yet, why are we inclined to discount the very things we admire in others while at the same time building up what we admire about ourselves?

We’ve all said and been told things that prove that we all are actively participating in this crazy game. Take, for example, “he’s just mean to you because he likes you,” “she’s just cutting you down to make herself feel better,” and “be who you are and pay no attention to what others think or do.” Man, we practically have to be born with our fighting gloves on.

It truly is exhausting to lace those babies up every day.

So, I am strengthening my commitment to giving myself and – consequently – those around me a break. Self-acceptance, I believe, is key to finding your senses of curiosity, appreciation, and gratitude. I guess that’s the crux of how I feel when riding pillion: trust in my companion, removal of the gloves, acceptance of what the senses are offering, and a deep and untethered curiosity about and appreciation of the things that whir past me.

This bitch should pillion up more often!



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