Sunday, March 9, 2014

Ortega Highway: Overcoming The Fear

Motorcycle Miles. 198 miles to be exact. Along the ocean, over the mountains, lane splitting traffic, through familiar roads and a few unfamiliar ones. . . we rode. For me though, today was an incredible milestone.

When I started dating Highway in 2011 I found myself afraid as a motorcycle passenger. I had ridden with others many times over my life but after so many years away from it, I was surprised that it frightened me so much. On the short jaunts about town I clutched him tightly, terrified something bad would happen.

Our first full-day ride we headed to the Ortega Highway, California Highway 74. It's a clamoring string of twisties, always riddled with cars and motorcycles, famed for the many lives it's turns have claimed over the years. I had only been on the highway a few times, by car of course, and I dreaded it. As we headed towards "The Ortegas" that sunny day, I made a decision.

Either I would push myself to find the joy in motorcycling or tell Highway that I was too afraid, and not ride with him again. I knew this would probably put a real dent in our budding relationship, but I had to make a choice for my own sanity.

As soon as we hit the first turn, I told myself that wasn't fear I was feeling, it was a thrill. I embraced the thought, and it only took a little convincing for me to believe this was fun, this was really living, and that I had only mislabeled these feelings as fear all of this time. Once I crossed that threshold, motorcycling was in my blood and I couldn't get enough! The euphoria I felt on every ride became addictive and to this day, I'm always looking for my next "fix".

Fast forward to this afternoon and I was facing that same fear again. Since we had returned to California I had been thinking about riding The Ortegas on my own motorcycle (not as a passenger), for the first time, but not until today did the chance present itself. After miles and miles of lane splitting northbound on Interstate 5 from Oceanside to San Juan Capistrano, and pulling off at an exit to decompress from stress of lane splitting for so long, we finally reached the mouth of the infamous road.

Motorcyclists crave the opportunity to ride this stretch; Gary France rode this same asphalt with Highway back in November 2010 after coming to America and riding 5-months across the country. He even wrote about it in his book France In America! Unfortunately I had thought about this road so much that it had gained mythical status in my fantasies, now filling me with the same terror I had once felt as a passenger.

"Maybe I'm not skilled enough to ride this yet. Maybe I'm not ready. . ." I wondered.

I know I have ridden across the country twice, but still wondered if I had the skills necessary to tackle this monster. I logically knew it was only a monster in my mind and I only need respect the road for what it was and take it one turn at a time to get to the other side. But at the mouth of the beast, I let that terror take hold of me.

"Time to Sash Up or Shut Up!" I decided.

I roared past Highway, taking the lead, and made that road my bitch.

The truth is I rode pretty slow, but I did get to the other side without incident. Each turn I focused, repeated my training in my mind over and over, and reminded myself to breathe. I can't say I really enjoyed the ride, but I am enjoying the accomplishment now. With this first challenge overcome, next time I can push a little harder and perhaps, ride a little faster. Had this been any other road in any other place, I wouldn't have stressed. But because of my own mental poison, I had built this up as the unslayable dragon, the demon that would take my soul.

It was a great technical ride, requiring all of my attention and skills.

But truth be told, it's no dragon. . .

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15 comments:

  1. Good for you for facing it head on and slaying your own mythical dragon.

    We all have that road we don't want to take, that we go out of the way to avoid. Then one day we take it and wonder what the heck the fuss was about.

    Nicely done Sash!

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    1. Thanks so much! Yeah, it's a funny thing we do to ourselves, isn't it?

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  2. It's got to be slightly annoying that while you were stressing about the road (I would have, too) your husband was able to do the damned thing one-handed and take pictures.

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    1. Slightly? Yeah, try more like Fucking Annoying!! Ha ha ha!!

      That guy and his amazing skills. . .

      When we were lane splitting on the Interstate, which is another story entirely, we were moving at 45 mph between barely moving cars. He was simply roaring through. We were initially behind a couple of Harley riders, but when the opportunity came Highway blew past one, then the other, and I followed suit. So off we sped mile after mile, while I white-knuckled the ride. Finally I cried Uncle and pulled into lanes. He saw I was not behind him, slowed down and pulled to the side to wait. I had to pull off the Interstate for awhile just to get a grip.

      He has skills that come with focus, confidence, and tons of consistent experience. He pushes himself, but he knows his limits. It's a beautiful thing to watch. One day, I hope to be as skilled a rider.

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  3. Sash,

    You have come so far, it takes a lot of road experience to gain the confidence and skills to ride right like someone who has been at it for decades. I still feel those same fears when I am out riding with my hub who has ridden for near on 40 years and I have only been riding 4. Huge difference in our skillset, but I am getting there myself. I am a lucky woman because he is an excellent moto mentor and is very patient. I still have roads that cause me angst and then when I ride them, I just take it moment by moment and do it on my terms. I think you are more skilled than you give yourself credit for. Keep on rolling.

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    1. Thanks a bunch Dar!

      This community of moto-bloggers/readers has been so encouraging and helpful! All of you give me so much that I add to my skills all the time. Just knowing that even though I'm on my own on my motorcycle, I'm never alone on my ride, well that means the world to me. :)

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  4. Sash:

    Good for you for overcoming your fears. A road is just a road. It curves or it doesn't curve. Just stay between the lines and you will be okay.

    We are not allowed to lane-split up here so I am not sure how to do it. Our traffic is not kind to motorcycles and they would rather cut you off than have you get ahead of them

    bob
    A weekend photographer
    or
    Riding the Wet Coast


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    1. Bob,

      How to lane split: Stare at the dotted white line ahead of you, pick your spot, own your space, hold your breath, watch absolutely everything in front of you, be ready to react faster than lightning, follow that line, and roar your pipes often. I hit the horn now and then too. It's intense, but very good at teaching a rider to put the bike in the EXACT spot you want it at varying speeds. Also you gotta watch mirrors. Your mirrors stick out farther than you think and you'll knock into the car mirrors if you're not careful. I hate to go between any kind of big trucks and I rarely, if ever, go beside a semi. That's too easy to get killed under.

      Thanks for all your encouragement!

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    2. Don't tense up though... A relaxed grip on the bars is best for quick reaction and so you don't fatigue yourself.

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  5. Nice write-up and fine photos. Brought back a lot of memories as I must've ridden the Ortega at least 75 times. Great job!

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    1. Thanks Dan!
      You and Highway BOTH! He knows every curve in the road like he knows me. ;)

      We would love to ride with you soon!

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  6. Don't tense up though... A relaxed grip is best for quick reactions and so you don't fatigue yourself.

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  7. Some great pics there. I live in Newfoundland on the northeast coast of Canada, so I am looking at a couple of months before our riding season gets started. I ride vicarioulsy through bloggers like you until the snow is gone.Thanks for sharing,

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  8. Tina, if I ever make to your neck of the woods you guys will need to take me on this ride. It looks like fun!

    Cheers,
    Curt

    Live Free. Ride Hard. Be Happy.
    www.curtcarter.com

    ReplyDelete
  9. Tina, if I ever make to your neck of the woods you guys will need to take me on this ride. It looks like fun!

    Cheers,
    Curt

    Live Free. Ride Hard. Be Happy.
    www.curtcarter.com

    ReplyDelete

About Sash


People call me "Sash" because I'm a former beauty queen in my old home town. My father used to ride in an MC which got me interested in the culture. After my last divorce I said "goodbye" to Susie Homemaker and became the rude biker chick I always felt inside. (Read more...)