On the first day of registration - March 1 - I signed myself and my son up for the three day course. He had expressed an interest in riding so I made a deal with him: you go with me for the course and then you could buy a bike and we will practice together. Of course, I was very nervous as a mother to have my child out on a bike in the world of traffic that doesn't always give a hoot whether you need part of the road too, but I felt that I was giving him his best chance to stay safe by taking this course and becoming aware of the dangers.
This happened two years ago on April 30. The first day started at 6:00 pm with a meet in a cold trailer with 18 other riders. The trailer heater was broken the whole weekend, temp hovered about -3 to 3 C (26F to 37F) it was not warm, and it was very windy. I overheard one of the wives say to her husband, "You had to be in the very first class of the year didn't you!" She wasn't mad, just bugging him as she was just as frozen as me.
It was cold that weekend, but I was just as impatient to get going on the whole biking experience again...so impatient that I almost foolishly didn't wait to take the course before picking up my bike from the dealership. The thing that stopped me was the dead battery. I had arrived mid April all ready to ride it home and the bike would not start. I had called ahead to say I was coming down but for some reason they hadn't checked it. So they would call me later after it was recharged. When I arrived back home disappointed, I got to thinking...it was sign that I really should wait, take the course and then go back and get the bike to bring home. That day I listened to my intuition, but I really, really wanted to get the bike. If I had not listened, I may have crashed the bike in my haste by thinking it would be so easy to just hop on and go. I was not thinking clearly that day and the universe let me know. A life lesson learned that day...
Back to the training range...there were 6 instructors - one of them being a woman who had been riding for years and pulled up in a huge Ducati, she was a neat gal and inspiring.There were 20 students comprised of a mixture of genders and ages:
--A married couple where the guy was getting back into riding and his wife wanted to try it too. He rode the little Honda 250 Rebel cruiser and was fun to watch because he was like 6 foot 4 and you can imagine him wrapping those long legs around that bike. By Sunday morning his wife confided to me that she was not going to ride her own, she'd be more than happy to be the pillion rider. I respected her decision as I knew she had tried really hard but just was not having any fun. She wasn't bad though, but you just know, don't you?
--Next was a mom and her daughter (early twenties) who were going to give it a go...and another young women who I never spoke with...there was always so much going on!
--A lady in her mid-fifties - who was told she couldn't do that by an uncle, so she was going to do it anyway just to show him. At one point I thought I might have to use my rusty first-aid training as I saw her going toward a steep ditch and narrowly miss it... I don't know if she passed the course, but I do know she had fun and had passed her goal to try it!
--a couple of young guys in their late twenties who had not had a good day on the only 20 minutes they had spent on a bike. They had split the cost of the bike and knew at that point they had to get some training. They got really good once they got going!
--a mom with two teenage sons - they had ridden off-road as she had and she wanted them safe on the streets now too.
--the rest of the students were guys of various ages - a couple asked me what I ride and some others were just there because they had heard that you had to take the training course to get your full endorsement; otherwise they would not have bothered at all. (Yikes!) It is not a requirement at this time, although the instructors would like to make it that way to keep riders safer. As it stands right now, you can write your learner's exam and go riding out in traffic without any training whatsoever...scary concept eh?
That first night there was about an hour and a half of in-class instruction and then as much riding time we could get in before it got dark. We learned to "rock and roll" which was helpful to remember how far to let that clutch out before you killed the engine, and then stopping instructions before we were allowed out in the giant parking lot to practice in first gear. Then like magic, I just popped it into second gear when the engine needed it without even thinking about it - that's a long buried muscle memory that just came back on its own. More practice going around and around and I was feeling somewhat okay with the experience but still quite nervous. The head instructor warned us again and again that what we were doing was a dangerous sport and that kept ringing in my ears as I rode around. I was dealing with an unfamiliar claustrophobic-feeling helmet that kept fogging up until I opened the visor one notch.
The bikes all had duct-tape all over them and you could tell they had been dropped many times. By the end of that first evening, I dropped one myself when I went to swing my leg off and forgot to put down the kickstand...oww. One of the older guys ran over to pull the bike off me before I even got out from under it. I thanked him but was mad and embarrassed at doing something so stupid. Bruises on knee and calf but did not break anything on the bike thankfully. It was at 9:00 pm, dark, cold, I was very tired and it was raining. My first doubts about what the heck I had signed up for began to creep into my consciousness...Perhaps this was not something I should be doing?
As I drove home with my son (who was having a blast and doing well for someone without any experience with riding), I told him I had to give it my best shot that weekend. If at the end of it, the instructors told me that I really should not be on the streets, and I was not feeling competent, I would not carry on with this journey. But with the knowledge that I had tried, I would not regret it.
Day Two next...