A New Adventure

Howdy from Deer Lake,

I am typing my update in the Deer Lake Airport as I await the flight back home. I presented to the Newfoundland and Labrador Fire Service Association this morning and enjoyed sharing how climbing Everest and fighting fires are similar. As I am still digesting the climb I just came home from, I am slowly adding images and stories from the 2010 climb to the stories of 2007. The audience laughed this morning when I said, “TA used to stand for ‘Totally Awesome’ but now, thanks to Madame Edwards’ Grade Three class, it now translates to ‘Trying Again.’” As I prepared for this morning’s presentation, it was great to review the lessons I learned at Firefighting Camp Glow last summer and reflect on how that experience influenced my training and subsequent climb.

One of the results of spending two weeks in Kathmandu at the end of my Everest climb has been a renewed interest in riding a motorcycle. The chaotic streets were filled with hundreds of motorcycles transporting entire families, a wide variety of unruly loads, and an occasional chicken hanging upside down from the handlebars. I left Nepal with a renewed commitment to negotiate the barriers that had prevented me from riding at home for the past two years: lack of a bike, lack of a garage, and lack of funds. Perhaps the arrival this week of my 45th birthday signaled a harbinger of a new found awareness of my eventual (hopefully not too soon) mortality coupled with noticing the small yet incremental changes in my body (aging perhaps?) which led me to a new urgency in not wanting another riding season (very short here already) to go by without further development of my two-wheeled driving skills…

Thus multiple visits to dealerships in town, surfing the net until the week hours, devouring the local classifieds, and eventually the decision…to go for the Yamaha XT 250Z…actually two…so Marian and I can ride together because sharing a new learning experience and passion is much more fun than pursuing it on my own (and more likely). With an eventual goal of riding from the Alaska to Tierra del Fuego while climbing all the summits of the Americas as I head south, I thought it made sense “to crawl before I walked.” Even though in some pursuits I have started big (the first river I rowed was the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon), I generally like to build my skill set before a big adventure. I was indeed, startled this year on Everest to be sharing the mountain with teammates who were putting on harnesses and crampons for the first time.

So, the motorcycle was a birthday gift to myself, as well as a commitment to my dad’s legacy. He rode a motorcycle throughout his life and taught me to ride one as well along with other motor craft such as snowmobiles, boats, and ATVs. When I finally attended the motorcycle safety course in 2008, (Dad always maintained the course was a critical aspect of learning to ride), my dad offered me his motorcycle, a Yamaha Midnight Maxim 650, when he could no longer ride. His bike was big and a bit too tall for me (a Dachshund at 5’2”) so it went to my brother instead (I love that it is still in the family) and I went looking for the bike of my dreams (a BMW F650 GS). Through the jigs and reels and shockingly low inventory (not to mention the nearest dealership is in Moncton), they are hard to come by and it took me a full year to actually get to sit on one.

Anyone who has seen my car and my mountain gear will know that I quite fond of the colour orange these days. This year’s BMW F650 GS come in orange. That was almost enough to have me jetting across country to Kelowna to shepherd one home (thus forgetting the intent of starting small–nothing like one’s first ride being 6000 km long) but rationally prevailed and an appropriate first bike was procured locally with the long term goal of upgrading to the BWMer when skills, budget, and leg length allow.

In the end, the choice came down to the Honda 230 vs the Yamaha 250. Initially, when I was first back from the mountain (on my way to teach at BOW actually), we stopped in and I sat on the Yamaha and declared it too tall. A week later we sat on the Honda, Suzuki, and Kawasaki options before returning back to Yamaha. With a week of settling in and a bunch of motorcycle sitting later, I thought I could manage the Yamaha’s height. Until, of course, we went to pick it up yesterday. Suddenly, I wondered if I hadn’t overextended myself once again.

Michelle, an experienced rider, was kind enough to come along and ride the new bike to her country (i.e. quiet roads and not much traffic) home (complete with garage). When we arrived, she expressed her worry that the bike might be too tall for me as well. Butterflies made frantic attempts at escaping from my belly rather than flying in formation and I knew it was important to jump on the bike and start riding soon before I lost my nerve. I kept telling myself that the bike was the same height as the one I trained on in 2008 and I would be fine. While Michelle and Kellie readied their bikes, I jumped on, turned off my worried mind, turned on my full focus and attention to the multiple tasks necessary for riding a motorcycle and pulled out of the driveway without stalling! Wahoo! A quick jaunt around the neighbourhood reminded me that indeed, “It’s just like riding a bike” and knowledge and skills came flooding back.

The three of us headed out. Kellie was in the lead with me in the middle and Michelle was flanking the rear. My heart was a flutter as we pulled up to the stop sign guarding the entrance to the highway. It was atop a short hill and I’d have to start on a hill! I managed that without stalling and soon, the grin on my face was so huge, it threatened to split open the face shield on my helmet. I was riding a motorcycle, on a stunningly beautiful road beside the ocean, wearing my dad’s leather jacket and suddenly all was right with the world. Three or so decades after first holding tight to my dad as we rode out to the cabin on his motorcycle, I was following in my dad’s tire tracks in the month where he first wasn’t there to celebrate his birthday, Father’s day, and my birthday, with.

As the ride continued, I thought back to a Buddhist teaching that I had an embodied experience of, while climbing Denali. The teaching was that we are always “alone and together.” In a seeming paradox, we can be both on our own and in the company of others. On Denali, I first grasped this after 15 days on the glacier climbing as a rope team. Tied into a rope, 15 metres apart, we climbed in solitude–not able to converse or really know what was on the go for each other. But at the same time, we were truly tied together, moving in unison, responsible for each other’s safety net. We were paying close attention so we could fall on our ice axes and arrest of the fall of a teammate if necessary. We were both alone and together.

On my motorcycle yesterday, I felt the same way. I was alone on my bike. I was fully present and responsible for its operation and my safety on it. But at the same time, I was together on the ride with Kellie and Michelle, in tune with their movements and looking out for our collective safety. With their bikes, they enveloped me and filled my first ride with confidence and spaciousness (the cars had to go through them to get to me). Along with a delicious breakfast at The Sprout and new riding gloves, their presence was their tremendous birthday gift to me (not to mention a secure parking spot for my new ride while I sort out where to keep it in the city). Thanks gals!!!

The bike connects me to my dad’s memory and gives birth to a new range of adventurous possibilities. It provides a salve to the deep disappointment that fills me in quiet hours of early morn and pushes me to new heights of learning. I’m loving the growing excitement of the steep learning curve ahead and all of the lessons the bike will teach me. Now I just need to find the right name for it…

Have a good week,


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