Two Wheels, Four Wheels, Big Wheels, Small Wheels

A post shared by Mike Hall (@pdxmph) on

I wish I’d done more blogging when I began motorcycling, because I didn’t capture a few things it would have been nice to have in more detail, like the first time I rolled down an on-ramp and onto a highway, or the way it felt the day a construction barrel rolled into my lane.

This morning I hopped on my longboard after missing a day thanks to the rain, and I had this thought go through my head as I began to roll down the gentle hill near my house: “Oh, wow … I guess you’re doing this.”

It’s been about six weeks since my first longboard arrived in the mail and I still have that thought now and then when I first push off, still slightly surprised or maybe bemused that I’m on top of a longboard and it is rolling and I am still upright. There’s a small flip in my stomach, a narrowing of my awareness, and I shift my feet around a little to reassure myself that I know how to do that. Then I kick again, get my foot back up on the board, and I’m rolling.

I’ve had a pretty good run so far. Three spills (two of them submitted to the best minds on the Internet for analysis), one trip to the emergency room I didn’t need to make, and dozens of momentarily frightened hops, scrambles, and jumps off the board after hitting rocks, rolling over branches, hitting a crack funny, or realizing that a hill was more steep than it looked.

I don’t really do much. I like to get onto the Springwater and head down to the Foster Floodplain park to do laps there on the smooth, asphalt path. I like to go the opposite direction and grab a bagel at Cartlandia. I like to go to a local park-n-ride parking lot with a long slope and practice weaving around in the wide open space. Sometimes I just roll around for a few blocks and come back in. I could be doing all that stuff on a bike, or walking, but right now I prefer to do it on a board.

Those spills … two of them were mildly shocking, playing out like low framerate videos that chopped my awareness up into “I am upright // I am horizontal to the ground but unhappily far above it // I am on my belly, looking down at the asphalt, wondering if I broke anything.”

Each time I have stood up, briefly considered my limbs and joints, muttered to myself, “well … walk it off,” then retrieved my board before hobbling around in circles until I can either remount the board and carry on, or walk home with a measure of dignity.

The third time, I went off the back of the board right in front of my house, going up in the air like Charlie Brown missing the football. I walked upstairs and popped a couple of ibuprofen, less because I hurt and more because I knew I would in the morning.

I was told once that the best motorcyclists are ruthless self-analysts in the wake of a spill, and I can see both the continuous improvement angle – a brief and thorough retrospective to avoid repeating a mistake – but I think there’s also something deeper there. There’s a realization that if the accident just happened and you’re not sure why or how – if you’re not sure what part you had in it, or what tell-tale sign or condition you missed, then accidents will be things that just happen. And at that point, if you internalize that notion, what the hell are you doing out there doing that thing?

So for each of my spills I have replayed the situation in my head, combed over the accident site looking for evidence, and compared the evidence with that of the many rides I’ve had where I have not fallen off my board. I have satisfied myself that I understand what happened and I’ve thought about ways I can reduce the chances of it happening again, because falling off a longboard hurts. I’ve got a small collection of bruises, aches, and scrapes, plus one ruined shoe, plus whatever the copay is going to be on the emergency room visit that confirmed I hadn’t broken my toe. I’d prefer to have fewer of all those things.

And I guess I could just not do it at all, driving the risk of longboarding-related items of those sort down to zero, but I think that would suck. That feeling I have when I think to myself, “I guess you’re doing this” isn’t replaceable by taking a picture, having a nice meal, reading a good book, or pausing to write a blog post.

None of those things feel like it feels gliding down smooth pavement, or feeling the tug of leaning into a curve, or deciding that it’s time to try going over that one break in the pavement even though it might involve another spill – and not spilling. Those things are all fun.

And as much as I don’t want to have any more accidents, the accidents themselves have been reassuring.

Earlier this year I jumped over a small stream and ended up hurting my knee. Having never had a broken bone, sprain, pulled muscle, or torn ligament, it was a little dismaying. The jump felt like the sort of thing that would be considered “normal use” in any warranty claim, and yet it left me limping for a couple of weeks, timing my ibuprofen and Tylenol doses and wondering if I shouldn’t just go get an MRI.

So, getting on a longboard involved reckoning with a small voice in the back of my head that was telling me, “you may fall off this thing and learn that you break more easily these days.” Sitting in the emergency room waiting for an x-ray, I was contemplating how I’d react if I had managed to break something; frustrated and worried.

“Most of the x-rays I do for skateboarding accidents are with, um, younger patients,” said the tech.

“That makes sense,” I allowed.

“So … good for you for getting out there and going for it, man,” he finished, brightly, but I wasn’t particularly offended. This is probably not an age-appropriate activity.

But I hadn’t broken anything. It was just a severe, violent toe-stubbing. I was back on the board the next day since it was just my lead foot, and you don’t really move that much once you’re rolling.

I didn’t break anything the next time I fell, either. Just skinned a few knuckles, cracked my fitness tracker (still works), and bruised a leg. Nor the next time: Skinned an elbow because I’d put on my padding but couldn’t find that particular elbow pad and wanted to get out to test an adjustment I’d made.

Now, some day there could be the spill where something breaks. But the fact nothing has yet reassures me that I retain some resilience. Maybe that’s a dumb thing to test. I’ve spent most of my life feeling fine, but I’ve felt best when I’ve taken a thump or two and walked it off.

“Ride loose and keep your weight back when it’s sketchy,” advised one sage. So after spill number two I adopted a more relaxed, back-weighted stance, the better to skip over a rock rather than grinding into it. This morning, upon braving a stick so I could gauge the threat similar sticks might pose in the future, I felt the board come to a stop. I hopped off the front, turned around to kick the stick off the path, got back on, and kept rolling. I could have slipped around it … I keep my trucks pretty loose and have gotten okay at maneuvering … but I’m still learning what needs my attention and what doesn’t; what warrants a panic stop or sudden swerve and what’s pretty survivable. So I lean back a bit to keep the weight off the front wheels and just sort of go for it.

I know there will be more falls. I acknowledge that there could be a fall that will make me decide I need to quit. Something else might get me first. Maybe nothing will get me besides the slow slide into old age. I don’t know. I do know that I like doing it, that I wear my pads and helmet, that I don’t ride in a manner that exceeds my skill or experience, and that I’m enjoying myself. When it stops being fun, I’ll quit.

This entry was posted in Life.