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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Failure

To all of you who said that I shouldn't get a motorcycle because motorcycles are dangerous, rejoice: I still can't get one.

I signed up to take a riding class. It was Monday, August 25, 2008 through today: three days. I signed up for the class at the Northern Virginia Community College Alexandria campus. I bought a helmet and riding gloves, the only two things that I didn't already have to participate in the class. I did my time and got up early every day (between 4 and 5AM) on the class days and went to bed early (usually around 8PM) to get plenty of sleep. I had my days off completely, so nothing would distract me from my goal of attaining a license.

There was a class on Monday which talked about the joys and the dangers of riding a bike, proper safety, where accidents are likely to occur and how to avoid them, etc. After this, on Tuesday morning, bright and early, there was a written test. I aced it: 100%. Great start.

After the test, they sat us on some bikes (smaller than I'd get) and got us accustomed to them -- how they felt, how they ran, how the gadgets worked, how to inspect them and start them up. Then they showed us how to ride them. While I was nervous at first, it was a lot like riding a bicycle, except that I had to deal with an engine, a clutch, transmission, etc. I learned all the motions pretty quickly, although some of the actions took a lot of repetition.

I asked the instructors how I was doing today -- they told me that I'm doing all right. I was hoping for a better answer, but I've not been doing perfectly. There's a lot of stuff that I have to pay attention to: in a car, it's second nature -- on a bike, I had to think about it.

Anyway, today was the evaluation. Keep in mind that I'd ridden everything in the evaluation before. I'd not made a mistake so bad as to warrant more than, "Do it again." My bike had only fallen once because I misjudged what gear I was in, and I was moving too quickly, but it fell on grass, and no one really noticed except one instructor. Yesterday and today, I was zigging and zagging, turning, swerving, weaving, U-turns, shifting, accelerating in curves, stopping, stopping in curves, etc. all without any major incident. At 95% of the time, the bike was completely under my control, and I was getting significantly better, especially considering that I have never driven a motorcycle before.

Right, so the evaluation. Points will be deducted for mistakes (like putting your foot down, or incorrect braking). You fail automatically if you do one of two things: 1) blatantly disobey the instructors' orders, or 2) drop/fall off the bike. No retries. I knew that I wouldn't disobey the instructors' orders, and I certainly didn't plan on dropping the bike, much less falling off it.

Now we had all just run the U-Turn and swerve exercise. I had made a couple mistakes the first couple of times, but I was really concentrating on doing a good job and doing everything exactly as the instructor told us. By the end of the practice run, both instructors were waving me on, and had no comments or instructions for me. I was good to go.

Out of a class of twelve, there were eight of us left. The first took too long in a break and was dismissed; the second couldn't control his bike and opted to leave (I guess -- I didn't hear it); the third was a no-show this morning; and the fourth was dismissed after falling off her bike one-too-many times. Needless to say, the pressure was on for no one else to fail out.

The very first evaluation comes along, and, naturally, I'm nervous. I want to do it perfectly. I just practiced this same exercise several times. I knew shift my bike into second gear, and how fast I need to be going to perform the U-Turns. I knew how fast I needed to go to execute the swerve well, and how to stop properly without skidding. And then it was my turn.

2 U-turns, and then accelerate to the swerve and brake.

1 U-turn: no problem. Things looked just great. I slowed down, looked into the second U-turn, pushed and accelerated.

The bike slipped out from underneath me quicker than basically anything I've ever experienced. It slipped out so quickly that it threw me and I just had to roll with it. I was completely unhurt. But I'd also completely failed.

Afterwards, I went over to my fellow classmates, most of whom also seemed to be very surprised by this turn of events. The few that I talked to all agreed that there had to have been some mechanical failure on the bike or something on the track. Gary, a long-time rider, told me that it looked like the front tire pressure was low, and when I went into the turn, my rim hit the ground: it's entirely possible, I don't know. They all agreed, though, that I would pass the test easily, and that I should borrow a friend's bike and go to the DMV to get licensed. While I'm fine with that, it is not going to help me at all: I doubt that I can get approved through the VA DMV when my license is from TX.

I'm still in shock (to say the very least) at what happened. I don't know. I ran the exercise several times -- I'd never slipped or experienced any indication of the sort. It was as though I had hit an oil patch or some sand: my traction just went up in smoke. It was too fast for me to react to and catch myself. Had I caught myself, there would have been points deducted, but I would have passed with a few points deducted, but there wasn't time to think. One second, I'm looking through the U-Turn and am accelerating, and the next, I've lost everything. I've lost my money, I've lost any chance of getting a motorcycle license before the summer is over, and, most importantly, I've lost my confidence. According to my version of my life's script, I'm supposed to have a motorcycle license now. I'm not supposed to have a bike yet -- I may not ever get a bike according to my version of life's script; that's still being written. But now I've lost it all. And in losing my self-confidence, I've also lost my self-respect. And that is going to take me a while to get back.
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