So for my second session with my awesome mentor, last Sunday, he had suggested we hit the hills. Now, I had been pretty sure he thought I wasn't ready for that, and that I wouldn't gain that nod for a few weeks yet, so overjoyed pride won hands down over newbie nerves and I agreed wholeheartedly. Admittedly, during the week I got some grinning butterfly moments of anticipation, but I was so up for it. And man am I glad I was, it was the BEST day.
Eric had kindly offered to let me ride his bike so after a quick coffee and biccies he gave me a lesson in kick starting her (to my delight, WAY easier than June ever was, and I must admit the kickstart always appealed to me... its much more Steve McQueen ) and I took her for a spin around the block. But he'd told me the route he had planned and it was pretty daunting.... ok, very daunting... and I didn’t want to start out on an unfamiliar bike so I reluctantly but resolutely gave her back and said I'd start on my own.
For those of you unfamiliar with Adelaide, Greenhill Rd starts out near my house as multi-lane urban but ends as my most terrifying road in Adelaide - and I'm not alone in that. Many people blanch when you mention Greenhill, especially anyone without some strange disregard for heights (or depths). It's single lane twisties with an intense sheer drop to one side, climbing to 600m. In my enthusiasm I barely blinked at the notion of making that my first foray into the hills, but if coming down had been suggested I think I would have had to bail. Target fixation on plummeting death would be hard to avoid for a girl with vertigo. Still, it turned out that riding up it, and thereby being on the 'safe' side of the road, any huge, terrifying vistas went completely unnoticed. May as well have been a giant pool of jam to my right, because I was just hanging on for dear life, following my Mentor's lines and hand signals, willing us not to die. I have no idea where we went, where Greenhill turned into something else, whether we turned off or not, I was just getting June up these immense bendy hills and down the other side on my skinny-wheeled rattler.
And we made it. We got up, and around, and down, and up and around.... and it felt great. But then I learned a swift and mercifully gentle lesson about concentrating on following someone else's line, and the very infamous, very true mantra "Look through the bend".
Approaching a tight right hander, I took it too wide, couldn't get round it without some serious lean, and suddenly found myself focusing on where the bitumen's edge became leaves then gravel then drop-off and nearly slipped into a lowside. Fortunately we were going nice and slow so with the help of a foot, and Gods-Knows-what processing from Brian, I managed to get her back up and round, just in time to give Eric a wave and a smile and a "come on, keep going" before he leapt off his bike to my rescue. And sure, Brian freaked out for about four seconds as we rode on, but I shook it off. I didn't go down, and heck this was fun!
Anyway, we stopped at Balhannah to soothe troubled nerves and racing hearts (Eric's not mine, lol) with coffee and cake and then we pushed on through a few more technical corners and hill turns before pulling over to swap bikes.
From a slow, rattly, clunky 150 to a legend of a pirate-black 40 year-old 250 was just a brilliant feeling. We could do the speed limit without begging. No need to leave 4th except dropping down for anything tight and up to 5th (as advised if we got over 80) a couple of times on some pretty fast stretches - which is good because there's no gear indicator display so you just have to count and remember. The beast has a disarmingly floppy clutch lever, her front brake is set a tiiiiny bit further away than mine so it’s a tiiiiny stretch, she has a big unwieldy tank bag in my low peripheral and she isn't my bike... but I LOVE that machine. Like, full respect. I was so honoured to be the first lady to ride her. She holds the road so much better than June, with more stability, and she has thrust. Actual acceleration. Ok, so I don't know what acceleration IS on June, but to be able to feel a desire to go from the bike as well as just from me? Yeah. That, please. Eric was giving my girl a better workout than I ever could, I'm sure, but there were times when I had to ease off the throttle to stay behind, and that's a new feeling. And there was a point, flying down a stretch of open road, canola fields glowing yellow on either side, clouds and blue sky and trees and just bloody Australia all around me, when I actually had a moment to daydream, think thoughts, admire the view, and burst out laughing to myself. And found myself thinking "I'd really like to be hugging the tank right now..." and wondered if I should be looking at something with lower bars and a little more attitude. Holy cr*p, am I a sports bike rider?
But I didn’t have much time to think that coz then he was gesturing at me to lose speed for another set of twisties...
Anyway, since the near-miss I had started choosing my own lines instead of trying to follow his, and that's how I rode the rest of the ride. Just enough attention on Sensei to stay off his arse, and note his hand signals, but otherwise looking way past him. Which of course is how you should do it. This was learning.
At Callington we stopped for a toilet break and swapped bikes back because we were heading for what he called some more technical parts again (as I looked longingly at the beast he did say I could keep going on her, but I felt bad for him having to ride June when he had a perfectly good bike just behind him, lol) and by then I must admit I was starting to get shivery cold, and the sun was hitting that eye-level time of day when there's moments when you cant see the road for love nor money, so I was pretty glad we were turning for home. An hour away through more hills, mind you, but at least turning. So we negotiated a few more twisties, passed through Strath, then I led us through the urban final section back to my door. 145kms later, exhilarated and tired and very very happy indeed.
By the end of that ride I could feel my capacity, my potential, and my desire all swelling, and the most wonderful feedback from Eric about my ride in the latter half of the day was more than I could have believed myself capable of receiving when I had the worst bike week ever just a little while ago. The world opened up. New bike became imminent, not just possible, especially with the sound (and welcome) opinion that I have about a month's more use to get out of June before I need to say goodbye and move up, to carry on getting better at this awesomest thing in the world ever. And I'm not kidding, as riding opened up a whole heap of other, unhealthy and unprofitable aspects of life started to fall away. Drink? No thanks, I want to ride tomorrow. Exercise? Yes, good idea, I want to be fit for this game. Smoke? Meh, if I'm not drinking why bother? The song never said cigarettes and apple juice.
I haven't ever felt better and happier than I did when this week began, and I took June back onto the road with more confidence and technique than I had so far had. Looking through the bend, always looking through the bend...
I cant express my gratitude to Eric for his encouragement, kindness, time and knowledge. Honestly.
But then the Universe lowsided me anyway.
That bad bad riding week, in August? Yeah, turned out it was badder than bad. And I got home yesterday to discover that two traffic infringements had scored me enough points for them to disqualify me for six months. No appeal, no questions.
So that's that, then.
And because I know someone will ask: Going through the lights because I didn't feel confident enough to emergency stop when they turned amber. And changing lanes while indicating and clearly looking like I wanted to for about 400m and not being let in by a single sod, in a manner which caused no harm to anyone but apparently displeased a member of SAPOL's fine band of a*holes.
'Fail to give way while changing lanes'
I would like to point out that there ought to be an infringement for 'fail to let someone change lanes when they've been trying to get over for hours' - but life isn't fair like that. If you want the full run down of points win prizes, do feel free to ask, I'll send you a copy. They only provide it to you when they disqualify you, not when they give you your licence, or when they ask you if you'll accept the fine and vaguely state 'points may apply'... And if you're a learner, please note that there are precious few infringements which carry less than 3 points (possibly 'shout hello out of window' or maybe 'murder old person and steal car') and you only have 4, so two mistakes and you're effed.
I have to assume that the Universe decided to keep me safe somehow. That I'm not as ready as the winds seemed to say I was, or that the particular bike I was going to run out and buy would have killed me. I don't know. What I do know and what you may as well know too (coz you'll see a pattern if you pay attention long enough anyway) is two things:
1) I quite regularly have enormous blows of sh*trotten bad luck. Life throws me curve balls with more frequency than anybody else I know. But life also throws me moments and events that are incredible and more fortunate than anyone else I know, too. And the Gods know I'll always pay one for the honour of receiving the other. Always, in a heartbeat.
2) You just cant keep this bloody girl down.
So I have four weeks left to ride before I'm on lockdown for the summer. I intend to spend as much of it as possible concreting the things I've learned thus far.
On April 13 I can go and regain my Ls. On April 27th I intend to go straight back for my R-date. On April 30 I will be in the dealership test riding everything they can wheel out. I'd put May 1 in your diary as the day when NR will bore you stupid with pics of me and JuniperII.
In the meantime I intend to practice my slow R-test manoeuvres in the car park behind my house, over and over and over again until I can do it standing up on one leg; Holding back tears when everyone else goes off riding; Trying to catch as many pillion rides as I can beg steal or borrow; and learning to strip a bike down and put it back together as a much better bike. (If gizzo will spare his time to show me) I will be grounded, but I wont be dead. Just dormant.
I just hope you will all allow me to keep hanging around here while I serve my time in the pits.
Polish yer bike, mister?