In a change of pace for our popular Everyday People column today, we invited writer Patty Hardin to describe how she began her latest hobby.

Three years ago, at the age of 50, I decided the time was right for learning how to ride a motorcycle. Of course I did my best to ignore the little voice telling me I was too old. I only knew I wanted to give riding a good, solid try. Then if I didn't like it or couldn't do it, I could at least be satisfied knowing I made the effort.

Well, I did try it and I love it.

Of course, as soon as I mentioned that I wanted to ride I heard a rash of stories about accidents, dropped bikes and other disasters. There have been two rider fatalities in our small corner of the world in less than six years. I didn't simply dismiss these stories; they gave me pause. Did I really want to ride bikes and maybe add my name to the list of statistics? Yes, I wanted to ride bikes, but I certainly didn't want to be a statistic.

The way I see it, the exercise of reasonable precautions and common sense will go a long way to keeping me safe when I ride. I am a good defensive driver and I can sense these skills transferring to my riding.

My parents didn't ride, but they were responsible for my initial introduction to motorcycles. When I was nine we lived in Jamestown, N.D., and one of our neighbors was a North Dakota state patrolman. One day he offered the neighborhood kids rides around the block on his motorcycle. Now I don't recall if this was his police bike or his own personal motorcycle. But what I recall with total clarity is my parents saying OK to the ride. I rode as a passenger a couple of times after that. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a passion for motorcycles emerged.

Perhaps it was that seed planted so long ago by my parents springing to life.

My husband, who is riding again, aided and abetted my love of motorcycles, surprising me with a 1980 Honda CM200T Twinstar in July of last year. This happened right in the middle of a conference I was attending in Seattle, when all my attention was focused on a meeting I had on a Saturday afternoon. Needless to say, when I found out about the motorcycle my focus vanished. Reluctantly, I pulled my attention away from the bike and headed for the meeting.

There aren't enough good words to be said about the motorcycle safety classes offered around the country. I don't have a personal success story to report here; I took the course twice and failed. However, if it hadn't been for my exposure to motorcycle operation and safety presented in these classes I wouldn't have had the confidence to practice on my own bike.

After adding a second mirror and adjusting the horn, my bike was street legal.

I obtained my learner's permit and practiced until I felt ready to take the road test.

I was happy riding up and down our road with little thought of eventually riding in actual traffic. The road we live on goes from some miles of pavement to a mile of gravel and while it isn't loose gravel, it proves a bit of a challenge. There is also a cul-de-sac type turn around a big tree, by a lake. I had an odd vision of a peaceful existence with my motorcycle, riding up and down our road for the rest of my cycling days. In addition to the gravel, it has other perils to cope with, including dogs running loose, cars backing out of driveways and the occasional black bear, raccoon or rabbit crossing the road. Life is simple, right?

Well, it is until somebody pokes a hole in that protective bubble of simplicity. One day my husband told me, "You need to ride out on the highway."

Really. Out on the road. With other vehicles. Riding out there couldn't possibly be necessary. Could it? Well, duh. How else would I get to the road test site?

One of the most unnerving things that happened since I started riding occurred as I rode down a quiet little street on my way to the post office in Long Beach, Wash. I noticed an SUV pulling out of a driveway. The driver looked both ways before proceeding, right? Wrong. She had no idea there was anyone or anything on the road in front of her. Granted, my bike is small, but it was broad daylight and the weather was beautiful. No harm, no foul. I swerved slightly and went on my way.

I didn't understand for some time what other riders meant by feeling freedom when they rode. How could you possibly feel free when there is so much on the bike that needs your attention? Shifting up, shifting down. The clutch, the throttle, front brake lever, rear brake pedal. Squeeze, release. Open, close. Press down, let up.

After awhile these motions become instinctive. You are one with the motorcycle, dancing to a timeless rhythm of the road. Maybe feeling this rhythm is the first step to experiencing the freedom.

Patty Hardin is a Long Beach, Wash., freelance writer whose stories appear in The Daily Astorian

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