I haven't been riding or blogging much the last couple weeks due to a busy workload, so it's time to turn the spotlight on my girlfriend Anna, who, after having been a passenger on the back of my Harley the past several months, is learning how to ride a motorcycle.
She enrolled in the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Basic Rider Course, and scored 100 percent on the written test following an all-day classroom session last Saturday. This weekend, however, was the real test - the range portion of the course. I went with Anna yesterday to the range, at the far end of the parking lot at Community College of Rhode Island in Warwick, to meet the instructors and give her an idea what to expect, since I went through the same course about two years ago.
There were seven students the first day of the range; three of them were women. Anna was excited, but also a bit nervous because she thought she was the only person in her class who had never ridden a motorcycle. She was a bit relieved to discover that another woman, Jean, also had zero experience.
Some background is in order: When Anna was about 11 years old, she was riding a go
kart on a dirt road when she lost control and went down an embankment, then into a creek and hit a tree. A few years later, she rode a pony named Buck who (as his name implies) tried to buck her off as he headed back toward the barn. Now, fast forward to this weekend ....
Yesterday, the first day of the range, I watched while the MSF instructors, Dave and Tim, spent several minutes demonstrating the controls on
the bikes, 250 c.c. Honda Rebels or Nighthawks. Then the students "power walked" the motorcycles up the parking lot's slight incline to acquaint themselves with the bikes' friction zones. Eventually, I saw Anna ride with her feet on the pegs, and I was there to take a picture. When she turned the bike around at the far end of the parking lot, though, I saw the rear tire of her Honda Rebel smoke as the throttle revved wildly. At that point, I had to leave, but I worried about her the whole afternoon. When I talked to her later that afternoon, she told me she had dropped the bike twice. She said she was unsure what she did wrong, only that the motorcycle's engine would race and the bike would buck before she panicked and dropped it.
"It was like the motorcycle had a mind of its own," said Anna, who was not hurt. After the first time she dropped it, she wanted to sit out the rest of the exercise, but she said one of the instructors, Dave, told her, "Well, if you're scared, you should just go home."
Anna said she thought about it for a second and then told Dave, "Okay, I'll get back on the bike ... I'm not scared," but in reality, she was still frightened and even drove her car home slowly (usually, she has a lead foot while driving).
Anna went home discouraged, but decided to go back today for the second half of the range, since Dave would not be there. She was not optimistic about passing the riding tests, but she at least wanted to give it her best try. "Pray me up, folks," Anna wrote on her Facebook page this morning. "I get spooked and the bike bucks like Buck, a pony I used to know. I have to increase my speed today and know that I control the bike - it does not think on its own. I am a trooper to go back again today ... quitters never win, and winners never quit."
I stayed to watch the entire session today, and, as the students chatted before the session, several were very encouraging to Anna, saying she was improving. Anna was also greatly encouraged by a fourth woman, Flavia, who joined the class today to re-take the range portion of the course, which she had failed a couple weeks earlier. Flavia admitted she lost control of her motorcycle during practice and crashed into three parked bikes. "Don't give up!" she told Anna.
Tim the instructor, who, according to Anna, is easygoing and encouraging, was joined today by a different instructor, Anthony, who reminded Anna that she should not be so hard on herself after just one afternoon of riding. He asked Anna (who is a medical assistant) what she did for a living, and then said, "Do you think I would know how to give someone an E.K.G. tomorrow?"
Unlike yesterday, the instructors gave the students a couple of breaks. "I didn't drop it," Anna announced at the first break. Jean told Anna, "You're much calmer today than you were yesterday." From what I could see from afar, Anna was riding more smoothly than yesterday, although more slowly than most of the other students. By the second break, Anna and Flavia were gaining more confidence and were ready for the final tests.
"We're doin' it, girl!" Flavia said to Anna. "C'mon, we got this!" Around 4:45 p.m., I saw the students dismount their motorcycles, and as I walked toward them, I heard whooping and cheering. "We all passed!" Anna said. "I never thought I could do it!"
Anna scored an 85 on the range tests. With her MSF course certificate, plus a $26 fee, she can now go the registry of motor vehicles for her motorcycle learner's permit, which she must hold for a minimum of 30 days before obtaining a motorcycle endorsement on her driver's license.
As Anna jumped up and down with excitement, Jean said, "Anna's a biker chick!"
Anna responded, "It's official - I've got the certificate!"
Looking back, Anna was glad she didn't give up after a difficult first day. "Success comes after splat," she said. "I give God the glory ... but I had to do a little work. If God directs your path, then you are where you're supposed to be."
The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way (Psalm 37:23, ESV)