I don’t have a death wish. I swear. Both granddads lived into their 90s and dad is still going strong at 82. Death will come for all of us someday, but as Ralph Stanley implores in O Death, Won't you spare me over til another year? I’m hoping to see 100. Still, I can’t help myself from riding motorcycles.
I took a long walk yesterday on The Huckleberry Trail with an old friend, a woman who went with me to grade school, high school and part of college. The issue of motorcycles came up. She said she’d never ride one. She told me a long story of growing up in our hometown of Christiansburg where the school bus driver on the hill where she lived often drove recklessly and many times overshot her bus stop. She was so scared that she insisted her mother drive her to school for all the years afterward. “I am terrified by the feeling of being out of control and having no protection around,” she explained.
“But when you fly, someone else is piloting. You have the airplane itself around you, but they don’t offer much in the way of crash protection.”
“I’ve only flown twice in my life and I hate the prospect of flying again.”
“I love to fly,” I exclaimed. “Life has risks. It’s a terminal disease. But far more people I know have died prematurely from poor nutrition and lifestyle choices than reckless accidents.”
I’m particularly enamored with motorcycling. It’s a thrilling activity. It’s reasonably priced and easily accessible (unlike bungee jumping, skydiving, and many other thrilling things). I haven’t crashed in a long time and my crashes haven’t been serious. Motorcycles can be scary, but the most scared I’ve been in a long time was driving Interstate 81 back from Roanoke one night recently during a sleet storm. Trucks were kicking up drenching sprays of water and visibility was awful. And I was in my car.
I’m told there is lots of psychology surrounding thrill seekers. Apparently the people who look for thrills are more often adolescents. Perhaps those of us “of a certain age” who still enjoy our thrills are thought of as adolescents – or at least are still chasing our youth. I suppose it’s a Darwin thing that thrill-seeking behavior is a leading cause of death in adolescents, but less so for us oldsters – probably because if we made it this far, our chances for survival improve. I’ve been at gatherings of motorcyclist where we’re all a bit astonished we’ve lived as long as we have.
The neurotransmitter dopamine has been linked to sensation-seeking behavior. Is there a reason it begins with “dope”? Researchers can’t seem to understand why some folks have it and some don’t.
All this aside, not having a motorcycle around here is like not having a sailboat around Key West or a set of skis at Aspen. We have pleasant seasons, lots of curvy, generally well-maintained roads, and wonderful scenery. Why would anyone not ride a motorcycle?
I told my friend that I’d be happy to take her for a ride. She said her psychologist had suggested she do the same to help overcome the fear. I apologize if I sound smug, because it is not my intention, but I don’t know too many motorcyclists who seem to need psychologists. I doubt my friend will ever accept my offer.