Sometimes a fall is for the bestI've enjoyed riding motorcycles for much of my life, despite my uncle's warning many years ago that they have only half enough wheels to make them safe.
Many people would agree with him and 10 years ago - when I decided to leave university life and go back into parish ministry - I also decided it would be a good time to give up motorcycles.
After all, I was getting older and it doesn't seem dignified to pay parishioners a visit with a leather jacket on and helmet and gloves in hand. So I sold my road bike and decided to start life anew without two-wheeled companions.
The small congregation in New Mexico that called me, however, included among its members the owner of a local motorcycle shop. Before long, my walking visits to his place of business led me into a showroom of new and exciting varieties of two-wheeled machines that were scattered among the real favorites in that country, 4-wheeled ATVs. Cattle ranchers there used the ATV's for herding stock in the open land, for hauling supplies out to build and mend fences and, occasionally, to hunt. I could only guess that they were more stable than my mount-of-choice, and I was certain my hunter-uncle would have preferred them as well.
Then one day the owner of the shop walked me into the back room and showed me a dual-sport bike (one that is both street legal and off-road ready). He explained that one of his customers had purchased it and found the seat too high off the ground and the engine too big for him to ride it comfortably. He traded it back in for a street bike and left Roy to sell it to someone else. As Roy walked the motorcycle out the door, with me following close behind, he encouraged me to take it for a short ride.
With her usual forbearance, my wife helped me figure how we could pay for it, and I picked it up within just a few days. I continued to walk to my office each morning, but when I made my house calls in the afternoon I frequently was aboard my mechanical steed, with helmet on head and less often leather on my back. What I enjoyed most was visiting my cowboy members, who almost always were out in the field when I went calling. When the roads on their big ranches gave out, I kept going until I found them in their pickups or on their ATVs or their tractors or sometimes on horseback.
One particular cowboy seemed to look forward to my coming, and he often had his motorcycle ready to ride when I arrived. We sometimes rode up Eagle Tail Peak (at almost 8,000 feet), where I found the greater power of my bike a distinct advantage. One spring day, we were riding the fence lines to check posts and wire when Crews challenged me to catch him as he throttled his way across the middle of one of his large graze lands. I followed but did not realize that he was leading me across a low spot in the field which still was very muddy and very slick. He knew where to go and I did not. By the time I realized what I had gotten into, I was sliding out of control and managed to lay the bike down ahead of me so that I would not get hit by it.
When Crews saw me go down, he stopped and got off his bike and came back to help me up. I was mostly on my feet by the time he reached me, but I had slid in such a way that my clothes were caked with the same mud that had been forced up into my full helmet, covering my face as well as pressing against both sides of my plastic visor. I could see with one eye Crews's expression of genuine concern turn to hilarious laughter, once he discovered I was not hurt.
As we rode back together to his truck, I was not only more subdued and quiet but I also began to realize how much more earthy I must have become in the eyes of my parishioner. Perhaps my fall had been for the best. I could not help but to remember Paul's words in his letter to Philippian Christians, "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus" (2:3-5).
This past weekend I thought back to that episode as I rode my newly purchased motorcycle back home from Troutdale in the dark through heavy rain and over rough and slick roads. I was grateful to arrive home safe and to be able to take a warm shower, just as I did that day in New Mexico several years ago. Perhaps my uncle was right, after all.
Doug Rich is the pastor of Pioneer Presbyterian Church in Clatsop Plains in Warrenton.