exposure noun ex·po·sure \ik-ˈspō-zhər\ : The fact or condition of being exposed. 1. The condition of being unprotected especially from severe weather.
When you're on a bike, you're in the outside. Whatever happens out there, happens on you. I live in Seattle. This is a thing.
I got on a bike for the first time in a torrential downpour and 25 knot winds. I was grossly under prepared, but the excitement and fascination of learning something new kept me plenty warm, if not dry. We were practicing in an empty parking lot on small bikes, so had relatively little else to deal with. Ultimately, weather: not that big of a deal.
2. The condition of being subject to some effect or influence.
Oh hey! I'm not the only one out here!
The first time I rode a bike on the street, the exposure that concerned me most wasn't my vulnerability to the elements, it was to other drivers and obstacles in the road. Everything came out of nowhere. Cars, stop signs, pedestrians and left turns all appeared as though they had just exited warp speed and were suddenly right in front of me like the Imperial Armada. While my ability to navigate the mean streets of Seattle has grown more intuitive, my fight or flight response is still on high alert every time I swing my leg over the seat. The nowness that I love about riding my motorcycle is deeply rooted in the level of hyper-awareness it requires - like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, one can turn into the other with almost no warning. Despite the implicit unpredictability of this relationship, if I ever tell you that riding the bleeding edge of joy and terror doesn't totally turn me on, slap my face.
3. The condition of being presented to view or made known.
I never assume that another motorist will see me on my bike, but as I've gotten more comfortable in the saddle, my top level awareness has shifted from physical obstacles to psychological ones. I can see cars coming. I can watch for pedestrians and have solid peripheral vision. What I have to be more careful of is my reactions. I have to breathe. I have to talk myself through things. I have to take it slow sometimes because the adrenaline spike when I make a mistake, no matter how tiny, usually obliterates any semblance of fine motor skill that I may have developed thus far. See also: And the Beat Goes On. When I scare the shit out of myself, three things happen:
First, I'm probably sitting on the side of the road, letting myself recover or (if it's bad) waiting on a ride (if it's real bad). So I am exposed in that I am not physically protected, or independently mobile...or emotionally grounded.
Second, and this takes far longer to come back from, I am exposed to my imagination's recollection of the events that got me there. No matter how small or harmless the mistake was in real life, in my head it was an utter disaster, I am an idiot / failure, and the replay is an infinite loop on the big screen of my mind's eye. My inner critic plops down to watch, and hoards the popcorn while she gives me a highly editorialized play-by-play of my fuck up. Bitch
Third - I have to expose my bruised ego (and sometimes appendages) to the friends I trust enough to ask for help. I have to place the call, explain what happened, and admit that I don't know what to do. A position that I am neither accustomed to nor comfortable with. I have always been a provider - of support, of shelter, of sustenance for many of my people. I like taking care of folks. I do not like having to be taken care of. I am a terrible patient. And, while I am a dutiful and dedicated student, I do not like feeling ignorant or helpless. The bike regularly makes me feel all of those things. And for some reason, I just deal with it.
4. The disclosure of something secret.
With the amount of work that I have done on myself through yoga, personal endeavors, education and self-discovery, admitting that there are times when I am not in control is hard for me. Keeping a beginner's mind is hard for me. Asking for help is hard for me. In the last two weeks, I have had to do all of those things, and it has been challenging in ways that I never dreamed possible. In yoga, it's easy to remind myself to keep my eyes on my own mat, to focus inward, that it's my practice. On the bike, I feel like everyone sees me and is judging, like I have to be a badass right off the line, and it's hard to remember that I'm so new at this - they might not know that, but it doesn't matter. I know it, and I will respect it or seriously hurt myself.
Riding my bike makes me feel insecure almost daily, I'm just cruising along and then - something stupid - and suddenly I'm climbing the rope in gym class and everyone is pointing and laughing. Guess how fun that is.
Not fun. But I'm being me, and so long as I stick to that, I know I'm being safe.
5. The act of uncovering.
The honesty that riding a bike requires is also a big part of staying safe. I have to be honest about my skill set when presented with obstacles, routes or weather. I have to be honest about my ability to deal with hiccups at any given time. I have to ask myself every time that I put the key in the ignition, "do I have the mental wherewithal to handle whatever might come up between point A and point B?" Sometimes the answer is "Yes! Let's BRAAAP!" Sometimes it's "I'm too tired for this shit." And some days (like this morning) I get my bike to edge of the garage and see the water streaming under the door and back her into her spot with a silent "fuck that," even though I was fully prepared and dressed for the weather.
There is an intersection of experience and obstacle that I have mad respect for. And even when I know my skill set could handle the route, there's always a chance that because my reaction time is slower than it will be, I could end up in an unforeseeable situation. Can I deal? Can I really? Or do I let wanting to ride the bike overpower not wanting to deal with the possible shitshow that a relatively easy ride could become because I'm still mostly guessing at what I'm doing? The stakes are high. It's fun or fucked at the flip of a coin, and some days, the brave thing is leaving my shiny little keys on the counter and driving my truck. That's a tough kind of honesty to have with yourself - I'm not who I want to be in this situation...YET. And I am working on it, but today is not the day.
Delayed gratification is not my strong suit. See also: Want motorcycle! 2 days later - sign up for class! 3 days later: take class! 2 days later: get license! Next day: buy bike! Next day: Ride bike to work! And then: Get reminded that some dreams take time to warm up.
But I know that all of this is necessary. I know that by pushing myself to expand and fighting the desperate instinct to withdraw and pull away, I am growing. There are new, young, tender parts of myself that I am exposing, and I am doing it on purpose, because I know that it will make me stronger. I will learn to trust myself. I will learn to ask for help. And I will undoubtedly learn that my limits are much further away than I assume.
And hopefully, I can chase them into the sunset on my motorcycle.