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Kelly HowardSep 3, 20221 CommentShare

Navigating Life And Loss On A Motorcycle

Vacationing in Hawaii, still suffering from jet lag, I woke up early. My physical health booted up with the satisfying pop of toes locking into carpet. My mental health, on the other hand, was about to be challenged.

I thumbed my phone to life and was stunned senseless by an email stating my friend had been killed in a motorcycle accident the night before. This was a friend with whom I'd ridden around Galveston Bay and once heard me being called a "senior citizen". Staggering.

No one witnessed the accident but the story goes: something tied to the back of his bike came loose and got tangled in his rear wheel. He was an experienced rider, with a zillion miles under his belt, many of which were long distance touring. We had ridden to breakfast a few days before and installed a new rear tire in preparation for his trip.

I'd never have predicted it would end so badly.

As we age, loss is sometimes the death of a friend or loved one. My father-in-law, a crusty, hardworking veterinarian who was still active into his nineties, often remarked "all my buddies are gone". True enough, current life expectancy in the United States is 77 years. Living past that mile-marker says you've beaten the odds and it's a pretty sure bet some of your friends and family are gone.

After Health, What Else Can We Lose?

Life is chock full of loss, followed by grief. In her groundbreaking book "On Death and Dying", Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identifies the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally ... acceptance. It can be something as simple as losing our car keys, where we validate Kübler-Ross's ideas by quickly experiencing the five stages.

But the slow, relentless march of time can be depressing and difficult to accept even as it's happening. It can drag down our serenity and destroy our outlook on life. We lose our health, vitality and confidence. One of our senior relatives was fond of saying "If you have your health, you have everything!" Having aged, I'm seeing and experiencing the wisdom of that old saw.

Vintage Racer

According to the Mayo Clinic, with age, bones tend to shrink in size and density, weakening them and making them more susceptible to fracture. We might even become a bit shorter. Muscles generally lose strength, endurance and flexibility -- factors that can affect your coordination, stability and balance.

Even a simple fall for those of us over seventy can be deadly. We're three times more likely to die than those under seventy. If you want to keep riding into the "golden years", pay attention!

Keeping Our Health In Tune

They say "forty is the new thirty" and "fifty is the new forty" but all I know is the older I get, the more 9pm is the new midnight.

Weird

Motorcycling is a physical sport. The ability to ride requires a certain amount of strength and balance as well as mental sharpness. Maintenance of those qualities are essential to elder riding.

Coping with aging is no secret and it starts with keeping our emotional and physical health. If you're over fifty, I'll bet you've heard at least some of the following from your doctor while being admonished to work on your health. Obviously, the key to success starts with us getting our lazy butts up off the couch and actually making some changes.

Fortitude, stamina, determination. Words we may have heard from our grandparents apply here. What are the secrets to aging well?

  • avoiding cigarettes
  • good adjustment or coping skills ("making lemonade out of lemons")
  • keeping a healthy weight
  • exercising regularly
  • maintaining strong social relationships (including a stable marriage)
  • pursuing further education
George Burns
“You can't help getting old but you don't have to get old.”
- George Burns

Enough with the doom and gloom, already! There are enough roadblocks in life that cannot be avoided: cancers, crappy genes we inherit from our ancestors, accidents. The list goes on.

Are you overweight?
Maybe those battered, deep-fried bacon slices should leave the menu.

Are you still a smoker?
My sister-in-law recently quit at seventy years old. Difficult but possible.

Can you balance on one foot for ten seconds?
Could you get up off the floor if you fell? Hire a personal trainer.

Are you burdened by depression?
See a counselor.

Have you thought about yoga?
No, it won't contaminate your mind with woo-woo thoughts but you might gain flexibility and balance.

Have your old friends died?
Make friends with younger people. A young person's fresh point of view and enthusiasm can be pretty invigorating. If elected, be a mentor.

Choose To Be Happy

Part of my joy comes from my job. I coach motorcycle safety courses. I've taught motorcycle safety using the Motorcycle Safety Foundation curriculum for going on thirty years.

When coaching, there are plenty of things to get frustrated about. The range can be too hot, cold or miserably wet. Then there are sleepy, distracted students in class, glued to their smartphones.

Two weeks ago, it was 102°F when I left the range. Last winter, we reached 45°F and raining that morning when we started. It was 38°F (still raining) when we ended that afternoon.

The joy comes with the stories. Every class (and student) has one. The following is just some of what keeps me coming back, all while fueling my enthusiasm for riding.

Kelly Howard At COTA
“Oh my God! I've ridden a motorcycle for the first time!”

Over and over, students are ecstatic with huge smiles (sometimes literally jumping up and down) because they've ridden a motorcycle. Even better, they actually controlled a motorcycle across a 120' space.

“I waited but am getting my motorcycle license!”

There have been numerous students in their sixties, seventies and a few in the eighties who have learned to ride. The British call them "born-agains". Their desire to ride was put on hold for careers so they could raise families, etc ... but they eventually did it.

“My grief is too great. I don't know if I can continue.”

This was spoken by a young man whose twin brother had been killed in a motorcycle accident. They shared wonderful experiences in a sport they both loved but now he's gone. Could he go on alone? He cried through many of the exercises but finished the class with some of the burden lifted from his shoulders. He felt like he could ride some more.

“I'm tired of being a passenger on my spouse's bike!”

She has many miles as a passenger but is there to learn to ride her own motorcycle. He's there because he knows how to ride but thinks she needs moral support. She's there to learn, pays attention and by the end of the class, is a better rider than the spouse, occasionally offering up a whispered "holy crap, he doesn't know how to ride!"

Yes, every class has a story. Every student does as well. It's kept me interested and enthused for these many years.

Oh, that and my two-hundred horsepower motorcycle.

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Kelly Howard

Kelly Howard

Fellow rider and guest author Kelly Howard has posted a total of 2 articles. Learn more here.

Yes, It's Fast And No, You Can't Ride It.
Navigating Life And Loss On A Motorcycle

Comments

Kelly,

Great article. I'm getting close to beating the odds myself. Sure, just like all life there is pain, but like you said a lot of joy comes with it. Like you, a lot of my joy comes from instructing the MSF course. During the pandemic I had to refrain for awhile, but am glad to being back full time now. Hope to run into you again soon.

- Mike

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