Over the last several years, I've begun a tradition of going for a birthday ride. This may not seem like much to some, but I'm a working mom with a PhD in Guilt and Not-enough-ness, so trust me when I tell you that this is a big deal.
As with all good and important relationships, my connection with my bike has grown and deepened over time. I started on two wheels about 14 years ago when there was a spike in fuel prices and it seemed like the right and responsible thing to do. I started with a 49cc twist-and-go scooter and, after my first ride took me up a sweeper-curve that passed an apple orchard in bloom, I knew that while fuel economy was fantastic justification, my motivations for riding were now less altruistic. When I pulled in to our driveway, I met Brent's anxious and anticipatory eyes with one exclamation, "I didn't know!!!" It wasn't long before I wanted more power and a more suitable ride. It's all in the justification, after all.
So, for the last few years, I have left my family to get out by myself on my birthday. I have a 1986 Rebel 450 named Margaret - she’s a good old girl. A favourite ride is out on Highway 33, heading past Big White. For a short ride, it's perfect. Lots of twisties, not a lot of traffic and not long out of town. This year, though, a friend of mine was camping in a provincial park in the Kootenays and invited me to come down to see her. Her offer was too good to pass up. She and her friend had enough camping gear for me; I just needed to get there and the rest would be taken care of.
Brent helped me pack up my bike and rode the first two hours with me. I felt more anxious and more excited with every mile. What was I doing? What if I broke down? What if I had an accident? Who did I think I was? I'm the cautious, responsible one in any crowd! But, oh - it's so beautiful, and ...how long am I going to be stuck behind this RV??!!
I felt my hips start to sync with my bike and bit by bit I got out of my head. I had done my homework, had the route roughly in my head and knew I didn't have a lot of time to linger; allowing for a few stops to eat and fuel up, I was due to arrive around sunset. What I didn't account for was that RV. And once I got past him, the next one and the next one. What started as an annoyance became increasingly concerning as time passed and dusk chased away the last of my daylight. The one thing I was most concerned about - riding through high, heavily treed mountain passes in the dark by myself - was looking more and more probable.
I passed two-up on a Goldwing heading the other direction and saw them pulling off the highway. Should I turn around and follow them? Did they know something I didn't about riding this route in the dark? That was about the point that I noticed my visor was getting harder to see through. There had been one bug splat that was right in front of my left eye, so I had been riding with it open a crack, but now my lips were being pelted with bugs. I closed my visor to stop the bugs peppering my lips, only to find that they were bouncing off my chest and up under my helmet too. I hadn't been able to get one of the vents in my jacket closed and I was getting cold from the draft. But it wasn't just the vent that was causing me to tense. I pulled over to clean my visor and get my bearings. Off to the side of the road, now with my vent zipped and a layer of shad flies wiped from my visor, I breathed. The only light was from the moon and the stars. The only sounds came from me. The only vehicle on the road, my bike. I knew I was high up. The signs earlier had warned me of the elevation and I could feel it in my belly. I checked my phone to reassure myself that I was even on the right road and to calculate how much further I had to go but, "no service". I started imagining deer, bears and wolves peeking through the dense trees at me and wondered what I was thinking to have done this in the first place?!? I'm more responsible than this! This wasn't safe! If anything happened, it could be hours before anyone found me!
Or maybe I am someone who does stuff like this. Maybe I am brave enough to ride through Kootenay mountain passes by myself on my motorcycle. I have good gear, I love my motorcycle and can trust her to do what I need her to do, and I have the skills to finish this ride.
I got back on her and started to ride.
Scan for hazards, look through the curve.
Pick your line, exhale and accelerate.
I felt my confidence and resolve return and started to notice the size of the moon - a blue moon, I remembered hearing on the radio earlier. Rare, stunning and, in that moment, shining a perfect spotlight on my path. I shook my head at how fear had caused me to miss this just moments earlier.
The risks were real; nothing about my situation changed. I knew in my heart that what was happening in this moment mattered. It was no longer only about the highway and my bike; it was about the deepest parts of me. In my daily life, there are all sorts of bears and wolves lurking in the trees of my life. Do I let fear paralyze me and hold me back from missing so much beauty, or do I dig deep and trust I'll have what I need for whatever is around the next corner?
I made it to the campground where there was a fully-furnished tent waiting for me, an empty lawn chair, a propane fire and my choice of white or red. I had the deepest sleep I'd had in months and when I woke, I could see Lake 2 of Champion Lakes through the trees on our site.
Some other friends arrived the next day and when they asked how I got there, I said, "I rode my motorcycle." Yes, I did.
Candace Giesbrecht is co-owner of MotoVida, wife to Brent and Mom to their son. By day she works as the Director of Community Engagement at the Canadian Mental Health Association.