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Panic Attack at 10:30am; Ride scheduled for 1:00pm

by BB1106

It was a beautiful Sunday morning in August and I’ve barely had my Virginia Motorcycle license less than 24 hours. (Note: I completed the Motorcycle Safety Course in June.) I don’t own a bike of my own but my father has four (2 Suzukis and 2 Honda Goldwings). He has agreed to let me ride his smallest motorcycle – a Suzuki Savage. The planned ride would be my boyfriend, Mark, on his Harley Road King, my father on his other Suzuki (Marauder) and me. Both Mark and my father are experienced riders and have been riding for over 20 years.

It’s 10:30am and I’m getting ready to shower when I start to have a panic attack. Mark was picking up his daughter when the attack started so he was no help in calming me down. I was mostly afraid that I would not be able to stop the bike at 55-60mph in order to avoid a changing traffic light or a car pulling in front of me. Or getting the bike in a skid and not knowing how to recover it. I decided to pull out the motorcycle manual we used in our MSF training class and re-read the section on “Street Strategies” over several times. This helped me calm down a bit. When Mark did arrive home and saw me reading the manual, he told me that everything I did in the school parking lot a week ago (before I received my license) was just fine and that I would be fine on the ride. His reassurance helped a little also.

My father arrived and we were getting ready to set out on our ride, then panic started to crept up again. Mark and I drove through his neighborhood a few times to get me comfortable on the bike, get my speed above 30mph (i.e., above 3rd gear) and practice stopping. This “practice” still wasn’t the same as being out on Route 7 with 2 lanes of traffic traveling at 55-60 mph. We started out around 1:30pm. Mark led the pack with my youngest son, Michael, as a rider. I was behind Mark (rider less). My father was behind me with my oldest son, Vincent, as a rider.

We stopped at a gas station in Leesburg where my first obstacle was identified – leaving the gas station parking lot and having to make a quick, sharp left turn across several lanes of traffic to get in the proper lane. Since I only had 3 miles riding time under my belt, I wasn’t ready for this challenge. Instead, I told Mark I was turning right, going down the street one block and turning into a shopping center parking lot to make a U turn and then making a right out of the parking lot to get in the proper lane for continuing our trip. The entire group followed my U turn plan. We looked so silly a U turn in a parking lot but it was a more comfortable transition for me.

We headed in the direction of Winchester, VA to stop at the mall where there is a leather store. Once getting up to speed (55-60mph) on Route 7, I was greeted with an unknown variable – the force of the wind against me. (Being a passenger on the back of a motorcycle, you never experience this because the rider and a windshield helps to block this force of wind). It was a surprise at first but after a few minutes I was accustomed to the different feel of the motorcycle at this speed. But the force of the wind pushed my helmet loose and caused me to get a neck ache. So once we reached the exit for Route 340, we pulled over so I could adjust my helmet. (Note to self: Make sure helmet is very tight.)

The entire trip to the mall I was terrified and tense. Once I safely parked the bike in the mall parking lot, I was relieved. We were at the mall all of about 30 minutes then we got back on the bikes and continued riding to Front Royal. This part of the trip I was less tense. We took Route 50 back to Route 340 and linked up with Route 211 (I think) into the outskirts Front Royal. Up until the last few miles, I was just fine.

As we approached Route 211, my father took over the lead because he wanted to stop at this “hole in the wall” restaurant for something to eat. We had to make a left turn at a traffic light that had 2-left turn lanes. We were in the inner left turn lane and because the light was green as we approached, we were entering the turn at about 25-30mph. I’m not comfortable with left turns at speeds of less than 20 mph with a single turn lane, so I was freaking out about this turn. I accidentally took my “line of sight” off the path that I wanted the motorcycle to take and started to head in the outer left lane. Fortunately, there wasn’t a car in the lane so I continued to take the outer left lane and worked my way back over behind my dad (Mark was directly behind me and saw where I had turned my head to see the traffic on my right which caused the bike to follow in the direction I was looking).

My next (slight) mistake occurred within 500 yards of the left turn problem. I was approaching a right curve with a posted speed of 20 mph. I looked at my speedometer and saw that is was between 35-40 mph. I needed to slow down but started to brake just seconds before starting to execute the curve. This caused me to wobble slightly but I somehow corrected the problem and made it through the curve without incident. One-half mile down the road was the restaurant where I was able to but my feet on solid ground and relax after the last 5 minutes of mistakes.

Leaving the restaurant, I had to back the motorcycle up to get it in the path I wanted to exit. In doing so, I turned the handlebars to sharply and dropped the bike. Mark came running over to help me pick it up. Fortunately, the bike only sustained a few scratches on the tail pipe which Mark was able to buff out when we got home. Starting the trip home by dropping the bike before I started the engine had my “psychic powers” turned on. I was foreseeing a rough ride home loaded with many mistakes that I would possibly make.

In actuality, the ride home was more enjoyable. Coming out of Front Royal, we traveled back into Berryville and then headed to Leesburg (home). I was getting really tired towards the end of the ride. It was noticeable at an intersection where I needed to make a right turn. We had to stop and wait for traffic to clear. My stop wasn’t very smooth. It took a few seconds for my feet to finally get a grip on the road. I was afraid I was going to get in the path of the traffic before I got the bike under control.

Once we were home, I got off the bike and my body ached from my neck down. The entire trip was 4 ˝ hours long. We traveled a total of almost 120 miles.

The next day after work the weather was nice. I got home from work and went riding again for 1 ˝ hours.

Now, I’m just waiting for nice weather to go again!

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From BB1106: "My experience started when I was about 6 years old on the back of my father's bike. Fast forward August 2003, I'm age 38 and have had my valid motorcycle license less than a week."

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