By Heather D'Anca
Seated on the pillion, arms wrapped around my husband’s torso, my legs began to involuntarily shake from the cold. We had already been on the motorcycle for an hour in 20-degree weather, but still had another 30-minutes before we reached our destination. I gave my husband our hand signal indicating I needed to stop, and we pulled into the next BP gas station to take a break.
It had been two weeks since I sold my SUV. In the midst of financial hardship, our options were limited, and we needed to catch up on late utilities, court costs and motorcycle payments. So, I sold my car. Though it was still winter in northern Illinois, I believed we could survive using motorcycles as our only means of transportation. My husband had been riding for nearly 13 years, and I had my permit for 10 months. It was a calculated risk, but one I was willing to take.
This trip was the second 3-hour roundtrip we’d taken in freezing weather in two weeks. As we flew down the state highway at 60 m.p.h., Brendon Urie, Panic! at the Disco’s lead vocalist began to croon in my ear buds. I leaned back against the top case, stretched both arms out wide and sang along at the top of my lungs, knowing the only person who might be able to hear my muffled voice outside my helmet was my husband.
Approaching stoplights didn’t stop me, as the windows of the nearby vehicles were all tightly sealed to keep in the heat, and out the natural elements. I looked around and saw others in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s using their cell phones, applying mascara, robotically commuting, numb to the world outside their cages. I pitied them. Though my toes were very literally numb, my spirit was on fire. Some of the adjacent car-dwellers seemed to notice, as they very nearly careened into the bumpers in front of them while staring incredulously in our direction.
And then there was the bus. As I glanced to my right, it pulled up next to me. Through the tinted glass, my eyes caught movement, and my attention was drawn to a girl, approximately 7-years-old, waving excitedly out the window. At me. Heart warmed, I returned her energetic wave with my mittened right hand until the distance between our BMW R 1200 R and her school bus increased enough that I could no longer see her smiling face.
As we approached our destination, I reflected on my experience riding over the last two weeks. At the outset, I wasn’t sure I could do it. After all, it was winter, and Chicago weather was as unpredictable as its traffic. I had driven in rain, snow, road construction, and temperatures from 18 to 46 degrees. We’d gone to the grocery store, the library, church. I’d endured long trips as a passenger, and more frequent trips as a pilot than ever before. But no matter the conditions, I got on the bike. As soon as friends and family found out I sold my car, they immediately tried to find a solution to get me another one. Though I appreciated their sentiment, I didn’t want another car. Our society had become so reliant on the automobile, that nobody could fathom a life without one. But, we could.
And I was grateful for the experience. It connected me with generations past, as I imagined them traveling long distances by horse and carriage, and I realized that as a people, we’d become soft. It connected me with children, glints in their eyes, faces beaming as they waved on the roads and talked to us in parking lots. It connected me to old men, tipping their hats, smiling with their eyes, giving thumbs up as we passed, telling stories about the time they once had a motorcycle. It connected me to the homeless, as I waved at them from only mere feet away, unable to roll up my window and avoid the human interaction, as they realized they weren’t surviving the winter weather conditions alone. It connected me to the road and to the natural world around me, the smells, the changes in temperature as we drove, the feel of the air, the unobstructed view of the landscape.
Though it took 90-minutes to arrive at a location I didn’t want to go, my perspective had changed in as much time. It didn’t matter what I was going to do. It didn’t matter the outcome. It didn’t matter that my hair was messy and my makeup smudged. It didn’t matter that I’d been wearing the same pair of leather pants over leggings for 14-straight days. It didn’t matter that people thought I was crazy. All that mattered was that I made it. I was alive. Really alive. I had succeeded in reaching my destination. Again. I thanked God. I had learned I was capable of far more than my own expectations of myself. I had learned that every time a new challenge arose, I would meet it and find a way to turn it into an opportunity. I had learned that at 37-years old, I could sacrifice objects that mother culture deemed necessities and make my own path. Some would say I was having a mid-life crisis. But for the first time, there was no crisis. There was only gratitude.