the itch

I don’t know exactly when I first had the itch to learn to ride a motorcycle.

Many years ago, when our son was playing baseball, another father owned one and I recall his waxing poetic about cruising the Don Valley on a late, warm summer evening, when traffic was light. I could imagine winding up the road, bridges overhead, beside the river and through the valley of fall colours. It is easily my favourite city highway for driving when the conditions are right.

I remember the small thrill of riding on the passenger half of a motorcycle, sans helmet, heading back to our compound from a restaraunt in Tanzania during a visit in 2018. The service is known as border-border (my increasingly fuzzy recollection) which is an inexpensive source of transportation for the local population. The vehicles were on every corner, waiting to be called into action. I had been hoping for an opportunity to purchase a little adventure.

That experience may have been the spark as I began to talk out loud about the idea.

The turning point was a spontaneous ride around the neighbourhood in May 2019. The fiance of a person attending a baby shower hosted at our house, arrived on his newly acquired motorcycle. An invitation to sit on the bike, an animated conversation about the excitement and away we went for a short ride, without a helmet, again. Despite how it sounds, my chauffeur was very safety consciousness, taking extra care around any curves, avoiding any chance of traffic.

A calm drive around the neighbourhood and I am hooked.

I now had a goal to acquire a licence and a motorcycle by the time I hit my 60th birthday, my own planned mid-life crises (even though I am way past the halfway point). People were gently amused, family members smiled at the perceived fantasy, others were horrified while citing an endless array of fatality statistics; I persisted nevertheless without any real knowledge of what was involved.

For my 59th birthday, I got my wish…in miniature. Olga thought it would be funny to purchase a small, motorized toy “to practice”, serve as a pacifier until the urge passed and be forgotten. I laughed. The gift was cute. The motivation increased. I subsequently purchased the official motorcycle handbook at the same time as I renewed my driver’s licence and began reading during our vacation at the cottage just to illustrate my seriousness.

My “motorcycle” gift on my 59th birthday.

The urgency waned, summer passed, fall proceeded and we were into winter where visions of driving involve shovelling knee deep snow before traversing in a heated vehicle. I downloaded the Autotrader and Kijiji apps to investigate the variety and cost of used motorcycles, settling, in my mind, on a Japanese made cruiser as the most desirable option.

The idea persisted and so did a regular goal declaration in the new year especially now that I was heading into retirement. The more I repeated it, the more likely I would have to follow through, if only to save face. My persistence had an effect because for my 60th birthday I was the surprised recipient of a helmet and a set of motorcycle gloves!

Helmet and gloves….tacit approval!

My goal was blessed, albeit reluctantly, and still with the hope the fantasy would fade as each step brought me closer to reality. I proudly displayed this photograph to friends and family, proclaiming repeatedly my desire, to the continued horror of most but also to the admiration and disbelief of others. I think, secretly, everyone, males at least, like to imagine themselves aboard a motorcycle cruising down the road. In selling the idea to Olga, I have described a romantic drive along the country roads around the cottage, her on the back, arms wrapped around my waist as we stop for a scenic view or an ice cream at the Kawartha dairy. She laughs: that is not happening, you are on your own.

With the gradual re-opening from COVID restrictions, the MTO offices could accommodate the writing of an M1 test, first stage of the licensing process. In order to avoid the inevitable backlog, my plan was to complete the test at a facility near the cottage. Bancroft, 45 km. north of our location was available on a first come, first served basis. Scouting ahead, we were going north near the end of July; d-day would soon arrive for test. Time to study.

I reopened the book, skimming through parts, thinking the rules of the road specific to motorcycles would be my focus. I discovered a web page with practice tests. I completed all six of them, three times each, never getting one perfect, up until the very last minute, repeating the answers to mistaken questions, chanting the key concepts. I was ready; I hope.

On July 29, we made the trek. A short line, a stressed attendant, alone, trying to maintain strict occupancy rules, wiping everything in sight after even nominal usage directed me to tiny computer room where the questions would pop onto the screen. Begin. After half an hour, answering 61 of 64 questions correctly, I emerged victorious.

Passed the first time! We are on our way.

A celebratory ice cream while reading the teasing comments from family posted on the WhatsApp group site, I began to plot the next stage. Securing a spot for the M2 training in Toronto is tantamount to winning the lottery; so, like the test, I looked north and am now scheduled for the labour day long weekend, at Sir Sanford Fleming College in Peterborough.

In the meantime, Olga appears to be warming up to the idea. As I am perusing Autotrader for the latest bikes, she has begun to express preferences. For one, the bike cannot be red. No specific reason given, just not red. And the seat has to be big enough for two people where the passenger is comfortable, not only the driver. Plus, there has to be a back rest so as not to fall backwards, and she does not want to be crowded out by saddle bags.

There will be no turning back when Olga purchases the helmet.

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