Some questions break us down. Some questions break us open. Some do both. For a long time, I carried it in the container of why. Why stay? Why go? Why choose this path or that one? Inevitably the questions become quicksand. I am knee deep and sinking, and there is no hauling myself out. This is when motorcycles entered my life.
“Alrighty everybody, let’s see if we can get them in neutral,” Coach Dean says. His hands are on hips and slightly bemused as the four of us toe the shifters of our motorcycles, our feet like those claws in the toy machine that can’t quite grab the stuffed animal. Finally, I find it! After a few minutes of stall-outs and near-starts, all of us are aligned in our success, and await our coach’s next instruction. It’s mid-December, just before Christmas, and the air crackles with my breath. It’s downright cold, and I can’t feel my fingertips.
I am new on the motorcycle in this beginner riding course, but new in a lot of other ways I could have never expected for myself, too. I’m freshly split from a ten-year marriage and without a solid home. I am also searching for a better job that can support myself and my nine-year-old.
Signing up for the Harley-Davidson Riding Academy new rider course was the first actionable, immediate thing I could think of to grab onto. It had been a curiosity of mine for years, tucked away per my partner’s safety concerns. But now, in the sharpness of winter, I giggle inside my helmet as I trace the lines around the range in each exercise on my Harley-Davidson training bike. I realize I’m not just learning something new now. I have initiated the process of redefining myself and exploring a new identity. There isn’t time for questions. Only an opportunity to do things differently, to decide what to focus on and what to neglect.
Building Skills, Experience, and a New Life
I successfully receive my Class M license and one week later, I buy my first motorcycle, a sparkly little blue Honda 250 Rebel. When I need to take it for inspection (my first real ride on roads and highways of consequence, in January no less) I ask my mom to watch my daughter for me while I run out. Gearing up in thick pants, an insulated shell, and my warmest gloves, with a clenched fist of nerves in the pit of my stomach, my mom looks at me squarely before I walk out the door and asks, “Why are you doing this? You’re going to die!”
I haven’t died yet. But I have logged thousands of miles. And I have been slowly and steadily building a new life for myself, with the motorcycle as an existential, essential keystone to this life. I’ve graduated from that unassuming Rebel to a sleek Triumph Thruxton 900. I’ve ridden across state lines and weather patterns, from the Rocky Mountains with lightning storms nipping at my heels, to quiet, gentle moonlit Pennsylvania backroads. I’ve stood under the awnings of gas stations, waiting out downpours, chewing on chocolate bars and stale coffee, feeling like a queen. And I’ve ridden through grief, through the darkest nights of the soul, untangling the crippling heartache of a loved one’s suicide.
Why Ask Why?
What do you turn to when you’re denuded of all you know? Why? Of all the decisions I’ve made in life and all the passions I pursue, why I ride motorcycles is the question and sideways look I get most often. When I answer that question, it’s simple: because it’s fun as hell! But mostly, I don’t want to answer that question, or know how to. Is it really a question that must be asked?
The problem with “why” is that it assumes something is wrong.
Sure, asking “why” can have value. After all, it can give us context and comfort, and help us correct our course in a positive direction. But asking why can colonize the mind. It can pirouette from a question to a lament. It’s not a call to action at all, but a back-to-front question that can lead us in the opposite direction of where we want to go. If I continued to ask, “Why leave?” mid-tailspin in an unhealthy marriage, I might still be there. If I continued to ask, “Why ride a motorcycle?” I might have never mapped all those sunsets and serene skies or opened the door to a new kind of freedom.
Sometimes, you just need to trust the impulse and do the thing. A life, after all, is really only the distillation of time, and time is fickle, time is fluid. It can’t be found, but it can be lost. So why are you still standing here? Go after it.