Managing Gravel and Crushing Fear
by Liz Jansen
The long gravel driveway wasn’t part of my plan for getting back on the road. In fact, I wanted to avoid the stuff until I’d built up some confidence riding on tarmac.
I’d laid out a well thought out strategy in How to Start Riding After a Motorcycle Accident. I got off to a good start listening to my own advice on the first three points. It was the fourth point, ‘Start Slowly’, where I collided with reality.
Other than a few laps around the parking lot with a demo bike, I hadn’t ridden since my motorcycle crash 10 months earlier. The shaky parking lot ride reassured me I could ride so I’d committed to writing a touring article about Prince Edward County in June.
I was provided with a press bike, the new Yamaha FJ-09, light, easily manageable and perfect for what I was looking for, I just hadn’t considered that the pick up location was at the other end of a gravel driveway. My anxiety level ratcheted up significantly but I knew I had to do it. More importantly, I knew I could do it.
A laugh still escapes when I think of how I must have looked, asking my friend to line the bike up for the straightest approach and awkwardly getting on. Fixing my eyes way ahead, I took a few deep breaths and tentatively and slowly started down the lane, trying to quiet the ruckus in my head. I hoped with all my being there was no traffic coming so I didn’t have to stop fully at the gravel berm at the edge of the paved road—which incidentally was now wet because it was raining.
I’m sure it was as stressful for the friend following me to watch as it was for me to ride, but I soon settled down for the rest of the 150 km/100 mile ride home. The next day I was off to Prince Edward County and other than 10 miles of stop and go traffic backed up because of line painting on the highway, it was smooth sailing.
A couple of weeks later, I set off on my own bike, a new Triumph Tiger XRx, this time to spend 10 days touring in Northern Ontario. Summer road construction is a necessity in northern climates and Construction Ahead signs, which never used to bother me, became an anxiety trigger. You never knew what exactly that meant so each sign would ring alarm bells and I’d tighten my grip on the handlebars momentarily, until I took a deep breath, thanked my scared little ego for trying to protect me, took charge of the situation, and knocked that irrational fear off the passenger seat—and kept my eyes fixed far ahead.
Most of the time it was quite minor, but I had to contend with rough surfaces, more gravel, and grooved pavement—the worst. Although I knew I could do it, the response of the front wheel reminded me of how it felt leading into the crash, albeit nowhere near as dramatic. But try and tell my mind that. I’d see bikes coming towards me and tell myself if they could do it, then I certainly could.
Through a series of coincidences, I was invited to join Esther Osche, Lands Manager for the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek (Whitefish Lake First Nation), Community Historian, Traditional Storyteller, and Harley Rider around the campfire at the foot of Dreamer’s Rock. Dreamer’s Rock is an Anishinaabe sacred site, approximately 500 meters/300 yards in from the road, via an undulating, curving gravel lane. Another deep breath, and I reminded myself I was at a sacred site and if I was safe anywhere, it was here. Proceeding slowly, I got in, and listened with rapt attention as Esther relayed the Legend of Dreamer’s Rock to a group of community children, in the same manner it’s been passed down to her through the grandparents. Fascinated, I pushed away the intrusive thoughts that reminded me I had to go back out the same way.
There was never a question that I’d be riding again so I knew I had to get past this crisis of confidence. I have the skills, a beautiful new motorcycle—the perfect choice for me, and love being back on the road. There’s nothing unreasonable with what I’m doing, as long as I keep fear and flashbacks in check. I’m much more comfortable and that will only increase with more time on the road.
Life throws all kinds of challenges our way, often without the benefit of a Construction Ahead sign to help us prepare. How we respond is up to us. Now, I’m focusing on the last step in How to Start Riding After a Motorcycle Accident: Be kind to yourself.
There’s lots of Road ahead!
- How to Ride Your Street Bike on Gravel
- Experience Spirit Island—Motorcycling Manitoulin
- Prince Edward County Motorcycle Route—A Ride Through Canadian History
— Liz Jansen (@trilliumliz) August 23, 2015