“So, see: clutch, front brake, your back brake is down there, and here is where you shift.” He demonstrated with each punctuation, squeezing handles and pointing to various pedals. The bike stood silently, a lime-green beast that looked as if it had chewed and spit out riders far more experienced than I. Nodding, the giant helmet forced my head to swing a comically wide arc.

“Do you want to try and start it?” he asked.

“Okay,” I said. I was along for the ride, an empty shell. I would do whatever he asked.

“It’s not just a push start, you have to kick-start it, here,” he said, sliding out the lever with his heel.

I swung my leg over, my toes barely whispering on the dirt. The bike swayed against the faint brace of my sneakers, threatening to spill me and its hundreds of pounds over in a biomechanical heap. Heart fluttering in my chest, I prayed I wouldn’t drop the monster.

I gave it a kick, keeping upright who knows how. Nothing. I tried again.




Sweat trickled down the back of my neck in protest against the desert heat, the forceful movement, and all the gear Sean had graciously loaned me.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know why I can’t do it,” I said with a catch in my breath. The general lameness of my entire life washed over me familiarly.

“Here, take a break,” he said, grabbing the handlebars while I hopped off and stretched my sore hamstrings. “Don’t feel bad, this bike is really hard to start.”

“Do you want to ride for a while? I don’t need to,” I said, feeling guilty that he had volunteered to stay behind and teach me. Feeling not worth it.

“Naw. I don’t need to. I’ve ridden before. I actually like teaching,” he said, probably not knowing how much more human that bit of kindness made me feel.

He hopped on the bike. “I’m just going to start it for you, so you can get on and ride before it gets too hot. We can practice kick-starting later.”

After a half-dozen attempts, it roared to life, buzzing angrily. Don’t mess with me, it growled. My heart raced wildly, a staccato of life I hadn’t felt in a long time. Swung on, floating on toes.

“Remember: clutch, then shift. Use both brakes. You’ll do fine,” he shouted over the engine’s insistent howling.

I let go.

me on bike

Speed! The speed, faaaaaagh, the speed! The arid landscape hurtled by and the bike skidded through loose sand. The perpetual deadness inside me receded as life poured through my veins, glittering and dangerous. My broken heart vibrated, and for the first time in years I wanted it to knit back together. Now I knew why I said yes to this.

At some point I remembered to loosen my grip on the gas, and my heart rate evened out. I stopped screaming. Had I been screaming the whole time? The bike’s front wheels devoured ruts and small plant life, bumping along. I started feeling like an extension of the bike.

Until I hit a sand pit. The tires skidded, and I struggled against gravity before flying off to the side. It stalled, grunting to a halt. I started laughing, laughing until tears fell.

Later, I apologized.

“Don’t apologize! That was an amazing first ride,” he grinned, holding up his hand for me to give him five.

I did, still laughing.

me&seanThis post is dedicated to Sean, good friend and teacher of dirt bike riding, who is bravely fighting cancer.

– – –

UPDATE: Last night, February 8, Sean passed away after a long, courageous fight. I will see you again someday, Sean. Until that day, I will keep you in my heart.



Ride of a Lifetime — 52 Comments

  1. Awesome! And what a lovely kiss-on-the-cheek to your friend.

    I have ridden on the back of many a Vespa and Harley, but I only tried to ride one once. In my defense, it was a big Vespa, not one of the hipster kinds. But I tried, then fell over — tentatively. I was too afraid to pin my leg under the bike and have to spend a week in a Spanish hospital to be able to really ride. I’m glad you did better!
    Kristin recently posted…Glad I Saw It: Bricks for MischaMy Profile

  2. I have never ever been on any type of motorcycle. I don’t think I would ever want to on a highway… but what you did… maaaaybe. I used to want to try motocross when I was a kid but my parents wouldn’t let me, lol. This was a fantastic story.. I could feel the adrenaline, surely! And you look badass in that helmet! Bless your friend… I’ll send some healing! xo
    Jen Brunett recently posted…Losing Demons: A Tribute to Dave BrockieMy Profile

  3. I love this! I learned to ride a motorcycle when I was 20. Learning was a whirlwind – I think I’d practiced for a week or two before taking the test, and I barely passed. I borrowed a friends Route 66 and took off on my own for hours. It was exhilarating, freeing, and completely wild, even on paved roads rather than dirt. I never did learn to kick-start a bike, though. 🙂
    Christine recently posted…EpilogueMy Profile

  4. I love the personification of that bike! It does look like it could chew me up and spit me out. Glad you had a successful encounter with it. And well wishes for your friend. Lovely tribute.
    Mamarific recently posted…The Name GameMy Profile

  5. Aw, Natalie, I bet this was really bittersweet to write, but what I wonderful tribute to a special person. My prayers to his recovery and good health.

    P.S. I’m so enamored with you -I think I’d be terrified to ride motorcycle! You rock.
    Beth Teliho recently posted…That Time I Was RoofiedMy Profile

  6. Natalie, you capture this memory so well. I’ve never ridden a dirt bike, but reading this makes me feel like I have. Really well done.

    My thoughts and prayers are with you and your friend, Sean.
    Karen recently posted…LegaciesMy Profile

  7. Wow…another great post. It’s amazing what doing adrenaline junkie sports activities will do for our psyche…reminds me of my first dirt bike experience (except I actually broke the kick-start off the bike).

    And praying for Sean, (my small family group of believers has good success against cancer).

    Sorry it took so long to respond. Been out and about for Spring Break.
    Chris Plumb recently posted…Making Criticizing Slogans for Every Major American Retailer.My Profile

    • I appreciate that so much, Chris. I haven’t stopped praying since I found out. It’s wonderful to feel your support.
      And Spring Break? I’m jealous. Though I know it’s not the same for those on the teaching side of it… 😉

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