Ferry Boats & False Starts


The False Start: An unsuccessful attempt to begin something. As per my last post, I had a shakey go of it on Day 1 in the real world. I vowed to move forward unfazed, and rode my bike into work again this past Tuesday. New battery, no stalls. Friendly conversation in the motorcycle lane and a successful ferry boarding that put me at the front of the line. All good so far.

When we went to disembark on Bainbridge, I was positioned behind another rider, next to a utility van and about 6 feet to the left of the ramp where we exit the boat. So I had to start a foot off of another bike, clear the van and then had 8ish feet to swerve to the right over the (wet and slick) rubber ramp, straighten up and exit the ferry dock. There were maybe 40 riders waiting to board, 6 WSF employees standing at the front of the boat and a vessel full of cars waiting to get off. Needless to say, after my performance the previous week, I was nervous.

So nervous my hands and knees were shaking and I predictably stalled out. I restarted my bike and tried again. Killed it. A rather impatient ferry employee gave me the "stop" hand motion to indicate that I should sit tight. The van driver shook his head at me. The rest of the bikes took off and the ferry employees pushed me on my bike into the herd of cyclists waiting to board. "That's twice!" yelled a snide female voice, hidden in the crowd behind the anonymity of a helmet. "I'm trying to learn," I muttered, mostly to myself. "Do it somewhere else!" she hollered. I sat with my head down as the bikes boarded around me. I caught a few sympathetic waves from the other motos as they passed through my peripheral vision, but just shook my head in defeat.

Embarrassed, but trying to maintain my confidence, I asked the closest WSF guy if I could get out of there before they started boarding cars.

"Feel free to try." 

His insinuation of failure was all the motivation I needed. I pulled on the throttle (much harder than necessary), let the clutch out and held on for dear life. California stops down the back roads and I was at work in ten minutes.

Unfortunately, I now have some weird form of ferry boat PTSD, so I've spent a good amount of time in parking lots practicing my start and finding the friction zone on command. I am determined to get it right, be first on first off, and not be shamed out of riding by bitchy women on bicycles. This does, however, require that I take a good look at what I know and what I don't, so that I can focus my efforts accordingly.

Anytime you're learning something new - and I've been hyper aware of this while learning my bike - you go through The Four Stages of Competence -

  1. Unconscious Incompetence
  2. Conscious Incompetence
  3. Conscious Competence
  4. Unconscious Competence

In the state of unconscious incompetence - you don't know what you don't know, and it doesn't really matter. You don't recognize the value of the skill you are missing, and you don't care. Before I bought a motorcycle, not knowing how to ride one wasn't really something that I lost a lot of sleep over.

The day that I started my basic rider course, however, I got a swift kick right into conscious incompetence. While I still didn't know how to ride a bike, I was acutely aware of the value of the skill as well as the vastness of this deficit. I was intimidated not only by the little 250cc Suzuki in front of me, but also by how much I didn't know. I could balance a bicycle pretty well, but that was about all I had going for me in the crossover skills department. I knew I was going to make some mistakes, but that's what the course was for - a sandbox that I could play in, a bike that didn't belong to me that I was free to drop (though I didn't - not once), and a crew of folks aboard this ship of ignorance to support me.

As I progressed through the course, I got more comfortable with the bike and even earned a perfect score on my test. I happily presented my certification at the DMV and am now a proud resident (and voter) in the state of Washington, sporting a motorcycle endorsement on my new license.

The view from Kerry Park on a night ride.
The view from Kerry Park on a night ride.

I've realized (rather quickly) that with great power (vroom!), comes great responsibility, and in ways I wasn't quite prepared for. I came out of my class excited, confident and ready to take on the road, but the stakes are pretty high when you're on a bike. As much as I like to compare motorcycling to yoga, if I fall out of a yoga pose, nothing really terrible happens. I land on my butt and maybe pick up a bruise or two. I can take my time figuring stuff out, it's not a speed game.

On a bike, the learning curve is steeper because it has to be. It's nerve wracking, but you learn faster when the pavement is keeping score. No two ways about it.

And I'm learning, and making mistakes, and slowly but steadily improving and gaining confidence as I chug my way into conscious competence one skill at a time. I am good at braking. I am good at shifting. I understand and can execute swerves and counter steering and feel comfortable navigating the winding back roads of Bainbridge Island on my lunch breaks. All of these things, however, require a great amount of concentration, and the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know. And sometimes I begin to wobble back into the insecurity of consciousincompetence - and, some days that keeps me off the bike entirely. I am not usually afraid of the things that I don't know, but I am overwhelmingly conscious of the judgey glares I get from cranky commuters in the morning, and that second stage of incompetence is starting to keep me up at night.

There is a balance between a healthy fear of the dangers of riding a bike and a healthy trust in my ability to do so that will let me enjoy my time on the road and the cool, crisp days ahead, and keep me upright while doing so - I'm still trying to find it, and be gentle with myself in the process.

With less than 100 miles on the bike, I keep telling myself - enjoy the ride. 

Catie WebsterComment