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Great truths are often presented in unexpected packages. Ive lived long enough to know that most life lessons are learned outside of a classroom and often those lessons will have multiple applications. And if I don’t learn them quickly, I will most likely have to re-learn whatever lessons I failed to master several times over. Since this prospect is not exactly welcome, Ive tried to attune myself to gleaning whatever I can from situations in hopes of avoiding repetition.

reader story leaning into lifes curves yamaha virago
Marybeth with her first motorcycle, a 1997 Yamaha Virago 1100, the motorcycle that would “teach” her some of lifes lessons.

Ironically, even though I have been blessed to have many wise individuals who have given sound counsel to me over the years, some of the best life advice that I ever received was given during the process of learning how to ride a motorcycle.

This advice came from my MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) RiderCoach. When discussing the effects of excessive speed on handling a motorcycle, he advised, “If you’re going too fast in a curve you need to do what feels unnatural, and lean into the curve harder while maintaining the throttle. If you react by trying to slow down or straighten the bike, you’re gonna go down.”

“Instead of slowing my motorcycle down, I chose to do
what felt unnatural to me…”

reader story leaning into lifes curves yamaha virago 1100
Marybeth just before heading out on her second road-riding excursion. Her MSF training would kick in soon after this picture was taken, as she approached a curve too quickly.

Being the type who has to learn things for myself (aka learning the hard way) I, of course, tested this out the next time I took my motorcycle out (the second time that I ever rode on the road), by not slowing down before leaning into a sharp curve at more than 50 mph. As soon as I hit the curve, I knew I had made a stupid mistake. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see several large boulders at the outside edge of the curved section of road, which seemed to be on a direct trajectory of my path of travel. The boulders were about a foot away from the road with sand in between, which of course if I hit while cornering, would cause me to lose traction and propel me directly into them.

Everything inside of me wanted to grab the brakes to slow my motorcycle down and try to keep my motorcycle upright in hopes of maintaining control, but thankfully my instructor’s words rang in my ears. Instead of slowing my motorcycle down, I chose to do what felt unnatural to me in that moment of panic, and leaned as hard as I could into the curve, while rolling on the throttle in order to maintain my speed. It worked! I didn’t crash head first into the boulders, but instead stayed on the road, avoiding the sand — and my probable demise — by less than half of an inch.

There were other important lessons that I learned from this episode, such as not to let pride get the better of me. Showing off when you don’t even know what you are doing is downright stupid, and a husband who is riding his own motorcycle several feet behind you will see the entire unwise event and will most definitely bring it up — ad nauseum — to you when you get home. But the truth of safely leaning into the curves is the most important to me.

reader story leaning into lifes curves yamaha road star 1700
Marybeth and husband, Andy, with his 2007 Yamaha Road Star 1700. “This picture was taken the year before I decided to learn to ride,” states Marybeth. “I made it one year as a passenger before deciding that I had to ride!”

It’s been said that on the path of life are many unexpected twists and turns. It doesn’t matter what your socioeconomic status is, to what family you were born, or in what region you grew up. If you are alive (if you are reading this, it’s safe to assume you are alive), you will experience many curves in the road that appear unexpectedly. It could be a medical diagnosis that has rocked you to your core. It could be the loss of a loved one, a failed marriage, or a friendship gone sour.

Not all curves in the road are bad. Falling in love, the addition of a child, or even an unexpected job offer are all good surprises, but drastically alter the course of your life. If you react to these curves by freezing up or even trying to somehow control the situation through your own strength, you will most likely flounder. If, however, you lean into the curves not knowing the outcome, but trust the One who holds the outcome in His hands, you will not only navigate the curves with more safety and ease, but might actually learn to enjoy the ride. Its a hard lesson, and one I am still learning.

reader story leaning into lifes curves kawasaki versys 650
Good friend Carolyn — shown here with her Kawasaki Versys 650 — was Marybeths inspiration to learn to ride her own motorcycle.

Trusting that God will keep His promises in working all things for my good feels very unnatural, especially when the things being worked don’t really seem to be good at all. In my own life, I’ve faced many “curves in the road.” Some were a consequence of my choices, while others were the result of the choices of others.

Poverty, abuse, teenage pregnancy, infertility, war.

I’ve tried to make my situations fit my expectations, which hasn’t worked very well (slight understatement there.) I have also wallowed in self-pity, stewed in bitterness, and spewed forth vehemence — all to no avail. Each reaction that seems natural to me has been one that would lead not only to my detriment, but to those closest to me. When I choose to do what seems unnatural to me, accepting what I have been given and trusting God to see me through, I can see the beauty in it all.

reader story leaning into lifes curves yamaha virago marybeth mitchum
Yamaha no longer makes the Virago 1100 that Marybeth owns, but it is an ideal used motorcycle if you can find one, as Marybeth has. Yamaha discontinued the Virago line when it introduced the Star line of cruisers.

Looking back on the road Ive travelled, I now see the good that has come out of situations that at the time seemed dire and hopeless. Unexpected hardships have a way of peeling off bits of you that need removal, helping you to become a better person, if you let it. Empathy, compassion for others, and the ability to extend grace are also born out of trials. Sure, it might have been a lot easier to travel another, less curvaceous road, but the joy of learning all that I have would be missing.

So as those unexpected curves appear in front of me, I have learned to lean into them and know they are part of an epic ride. After all, navigating the curves is the best part of riding!

reader story leaning into lifes curves adirondack mountain
Marybeth and Andy pose on the summit of Nippletop Mountain in New York’s Adirondack mountains. They often ride their motorcycles up to the High Peak region of the Adirondacks in order to hike the mountains. Marybeth explains, “There is no better way to dry off post-hike sweat than to have it dry off from riding!”

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