Finding True Happiness Aboard a 1980 Suzuki

Poor Spike. He thinks I don't like him anymore. He just waits. And pouts. And shivers. We have been acquainted now for almost two years. I took a second job and sold Maurice to get him. Maurice was my learner bike. He taught me how great it was to get home without killing myself.

I never thought I would even want to ride a motorcycle by myself until I got on one. My fantasy ride was hanging on on a warm summer night with my eyes closed going about 45 mph tops. Girls can be so stupid. Just a simple thing like moving forward a few inches and putting my feet and hands on the controls where they were supposed to be didn't just make a difference—it changed my life. Not just my lifestyle—my Life.

I quit waiting around for some guy to take me for a ride and made a phone call, wrote a check, took and passed a riding/safety course, rented an almost brand new bike for my first ride just in case I had made a huge mistake, bought a motorcycle, figured out and fixed the electrical problem that made him die at the first stop sign, taught myself how to ride… why, I just amaze myself when I think of it.

Just after leaving Mistake No. 2, my washing machine broke. What am I going to do? Who is going to fix my washer? Panic. Despair. Then Reason. Just go to the laundromat 'til I figure something out, It said. I lived the PDR cycle for so long, it got to be my friend. I hadn't been introduced to Happy. Wouldn't have known him if he had pulled up in front of my house.

Of course, the phone call was the most significant thing I did on my own. Everything else in the motorcycle world is covered by a network of people I had no idea existed until I opened up my brain. My friend Mark told me about the Knoxville Rider Education Program. Pellissippi State and Karns High School provide parking lots and classrooms every weekend through good riding season. Angels donate the 175 and 250 cc learner bikes for KREP. Gordon and Rusty were the brave souls who stood out on the hot pavement and baby-stepped 12 of us through the cones.

My ex-husband Ray, believe it or not, hooked me up with his friend Larry in Anderson, Ind. who had a 1980 Suzuki for $900. I bought a helmet from Jeff at Biker Rags, dug up some gloves and hiking boots, and away I went.

I was fortunate enough to have a bunch of cul-de-sacs in my neighborhood to practice starting and stopping before I got out on the road. The secret to overcoming the intimidation and fear is to get comfortable where you are and ever so gently push that comfort level bubble wider and wider.

Maurice was really a little too tall for me, but I took my time riding around the subdivision until I was confident I could ride in a circle to the left and to the right without falling over. I stopped and started over and over again, gearing down and up, and finally went out on the main road. I was so scared that first couple of months, I couldn't wait to get back home, so I could go back out again. I was plum worn out from gripping the handlebars so tight and tensing up my neck.

That first winter I noticed that the cold didn't bother me very much when I was riding. That's when I began to suspect that I had reached the point of no return regarding motorcycles. You know what they say: If you're not Living on the Edge, you're taking up Too Much Room.

My very first ride after the KREP course bikes was two circles around the parking lot at the Victory dealership. They were having an end-of-summer sale and had a beeyouteefull cream-colored honkin' big demo machine about twice as big as the ones I rode on the course. (The ones that I thought, at the time, were going to be plenty big enough.) I showed the guys my motorcycle endorsement on my license, and begged my way to a test drive. They were so good to let me borrow a helmet and brand new pair of boots (I was wearing flip-flops), and were actually going to let me ride down Kingston Pike. I was getting excited.

It didn't take me a minute and a half to double lap that parking lot. When I got off I almost fell to the ground. Did you see the movie Cocoon? Where the aliens unzipped their bodies and they were nothing but light inside? That's what I felt like. I was LIT UP.

Of course, that was way before you, Spike. We have had some good times together, haven't we? We've been to a lot of places I could never take Maurice. You are so much more well behaved. The Wye is one of my favorites, even if I only have time to skip a couple of stones and spit off the bridge. The Blue Ridge Parkway on a clear, 90 degree day in the valley, which makes a perfect 70 degree day in the mountains, is just right for making my own motorcycle commercial.

I remember one summer day, late in the afternoon, when the sun was just about to turn golden. I looked to my right and saw our shadow on the grassy bank and I thought, that's me, that's what I look like: Happy.

Carol Watkins lives in Knoxville's Cedar Bluff area in a condo with a one-car garage—make that one-motorcycle garage. Been married and divorced three times, one son. Had a cat once. He died. If you want to know anything else about her, read it in her column or take her out to dinner.