Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” And I totally think she’s right. We should push ourselves to try something new — maybe even something a little dangerous — as often as we can. Maybe we fail but who cares? We have to try. No holding back. For some, its skydiving or water-skiing for the first time. For others, it might be ordering an entrée at a restaurant that you’ve never eaten before or even taking up a foreign language. For me, it’s learning how to drive an insanely intimidating piece of badass machinery…a motorcycle.
As I made a cup of delicious Hazelnut-flavored coffee one gorgeous June morning, my dad sauntered on into the kitchen with an eager expression on his face. “Maris, you know what I want to do this summer?” Not having a clue, I asked “what would that be, Dad?” He smiled. “I want to learn how to ride a motorcycle.”
My mom walked over to the kitchen island and chimed in, warning him of how unsafe and dangerous this ‘driving a motorcycle’ really is. But my dad assured her. “There’s a Motorcycle Safety School Basic Rider Course offered through the state of New York. If I take the course and pass, I can get my license,” said my dad. Both my siblings rolled their eyes at him, thinking, there’s no way he is going to actually do this.
And then I — impulsively — declared “well, if dad is going to try it, I think I will too.”
Everyone stopped and looked at me with glaring, wide eyes. “Marissa, no way,” says my mom. “ARE YOU ACTUALLY INSANE?” yells my sister. “You’re not serious,” says my brother. “I’m totally serious. I want to learn,” I tell them.
The first thing that comes to mind when you think of motorcycle riders is black leather clothing, LOTS of tattoos, tall, tough and intimidating “don’t-mess” type of men.
So, for a moderately preppy, tattoo-less, nails-obsessed, blonde-haired and blue eyed girl, I don’t exactly fit the mold. (Not to mention, I own maybe one leather jacket…and its tan-colored…from like J. Crew…) But fast forward one month and I’m standing before a black Rebel 250 at day one of motorcycle training.
My dad and I step onto the Motorcycle Range only to confront a circle of men that perfectly fit the stereotype: a dark-clothing-and-tattoo-covered, broad-shouldered, tough-looking biker. And not *biker chic*. Nope. I was the only female. And I knew the other soon-to-be riders were judging me because of it. They looked at me with patronizing eyes, thinking how in the world is SHE going to ride a motorcycle. But I tried not to let them get to me. I kept reminding myself of what my dad had told me before we walked onto that range: they only have as much experience as you do. And he’s right. Everyone there — male or female, tattooed or not — was a beginner with the same objective: to learn to ride.
We first learned the motorcycle’s basic controls. And there are a ton…the engine cut-off switch, fuel valve, clutch, throttle, front brake, rear brake, gear shift… Terminology, alone, was a lot to learn. But after a few basic rider exercises of power-walking, I was able to slowly pick my feet up and rest them on the foot pegs. Gloves on, helmet secure, boots strapped, head upright and eyes looking ahead, I was actually riding.
Picture that feeling you get when you first learn to ride a bike without training wheels. Now multiply that feeling by one thousand. That’s the feeling. Riding a motorcycle takes my confidence to a whole new level. As I roll on the throttle and hear that engine roar, I am overwhelmed with a sense of power. Not only do I feel capable and in command when I ride. I also feel free, liberated, and completely exposed. Literally exposed. Instead of being enclosed as you are in a car, a motorcycle let’s you feel the realness of the wind and the air. Your ride becomes alive. Your mind, liberated.
But, like all things fun and rebellious, bad things can happen. And unfortunately, my bold and daring endeavor *nearly* cost me a few broken bones… Engine on, power walk a few steps, and both feet on foot pegs — I begin to ride smoothly. I roll on the throttle and hear my engine roaring (I felt totally badass I must say…) My instructor gives me the OK, and I shift into a higher gear. I’m now riding even faster, full of confidence. Instructed to downshift, I reach for my gear — a bit too early — which causes my engine to sputter. I get totally spooked. I impulsively hit my brake while looking at one of those cement blocks you see at the front of parking spaces, only to ram into it moments later. Before I knew it, I was on the ground with 300 pounds of metal on top of me.
Thankfully, I made it out with only bruised and scraped knees and elbows. No broken bones, but it was a close one. That engine sputter startled me and caused me to lose control. And after the accident, I did not feel that rush of confidence I felt while riding. I was shaken up, bruised and cut. It was time for me to call it quits for the day.
Even after being bruised and scraped, that fall is not stopping me from wanting to try again. One mistake and I went crashing down. But that definitely doesn’t mean quit. My instructor said that after more practice in a private lesson or two, I will have no problem getting my license.
A far cry from the stereotype, I didn’t let myself get intimidated by my own fears and hesitations, the instructors or other motorcyclists, or the massive bike that stood before me. I tried, I learned something new, and I gained a tremendous amount of confidence by going for it. Despite the fall (whoops!), I have no regrets. Doing anything a little dangerous has its risks. But by doing something that makes you feel a little uncomfortable, you actually may surprise yourself. I know I did. Not having a clue as to what a throttle and a clutch were a few months ago, I can now operate what was once an intimidating piece of dangerous machinery. I am still learning, but the experience gave me confidence not just to try riding a motorcycle again. Leaping into this made me feel secure enough to leap into anything that I want to try in the future. Maybe exploring an uncharted beach in the South Pacific? Maybe singing on stage at an Open Mic night on campus? Who knows what my next venture will be. There is nothing holding me back!
We seem to look for new and adventurous activities to do all the time. But a lot of the times, we fail to take the next step in actually doing what we intended. So what if you fail? I sure did. But I picked myself up again and learned from it. I tried something totally new and scary and out of the ordinary for someone with my profile, and I discovered something that I really had fun with. Had I not tried, I would never know what that exhilarating rush of riding feels like. So, if you’re contemplating about doing something a little out of your comfort zone, just go for it. Find your inner confidence and just leap right into it. Regardless of the outcome, you’ll discover something new, maybe even surprise yourself a little. And I promise you, you’ll be better off because of it.
Believe it or not, my dad just BOUGHT a motorcycle. So, now I can practice as much as I want!
Marissa Licursi is a student at Johns Hopkins University.