The Journey

Drop it like it’s hot

Jenn’s self portrait at Dunraven Bay
Jenn and I are both Pisces, which is a commonality that means nothing because astrology is intolerably stupid. But if you were intellectually thin on the ground you might perhaps point to that as a reason both of us love playing around in water. 
Or, perhaps, more believably, it has something to do with the fact both of us spent portions of our childhood living close to the sea (Jenn by the English Channel and myself by the Gulf of Mexico). 
Or, maybe it is simply that quite a lot of human beings like being close to bodies of water, as evidenced by the location of most major metropolitan areas. It doesn’t really matter why; the point is simply that Jenn and I like playing in water. And last Saturday, there was a break in the rain, so we decided we needed to get out and make the most of whatever moments of summer that might be left in these parts (summer in Britain is often not so much a climatological phenomenon as it is an idea).
“I want to swim in the sea!” Jenn said.
“I’d prefer to swim in a river or lake or some other body of water that doesn’t have jellyfish,” I said.
“Oh, don’t be silly! There won’t be jellyfish,” Jenn said.
There were jellyfish. Dozens and dozens of the little bastards floating around just below the surface. But they were tiny and, apparently, of the sort that do not sting. Once I got used to their presence I was able to enjoy splashing about and hurling myself into waves. We had ridden to Dunraven Bay, a little spot on the western side of the Vale of Glamorgan — about 25 miles from Penarth.
The sheer number of ocean-dwelling creatures that bite and sting generally makes me averse to playing in salt water but I will readily admit I had a great time. The waves were perfect for body surfing, the water temperature was not too cool, and the sun shone brilliantly. We swam, ate lunch and swam some more.

The weather forecast had called for rain in the early evening and Jenn didn’t have any wet-weather gear (I have yet to treat her jacket with Nikwax), so at tea time we decided to pack up and see if we couldn’t get in a drink at a nearby pub before heading home. The previously mentioned Plough & Harrow is just 3 miles away from Dunraven Bay and has one of the best beer gardens in the area — the perfect place to sit and enjoy a sunny day.

Dunraven Bay

Approaching the Plough & Harrow, you have to take winding country lanes that many Americans would feel are too narrow to even serve as a driveway, let alone a two-way thoroughfare. It is the sort of thing that makes you feel very clever, as if you’re the only person in the world to know about the place. But as we neared the pub it became clear that at least a few other people are hip to the Plough & Harrow’s whereabouts because there were cars everywhere.

As of this weekend, I have clocked some 800 miles astride Aliona, which, I suppose, is a respectable number of miles for a month and a half, but not nearly so many that I have overcome all my newbie anxiety. And that’s something that is increased when Jenn’s on the back; handling at slow speeds is far more of a challenge. Add to this that sort of nervousness that comes from encountering a jumble of cars and wanting to find a place to park amongst them. On a motorcycle two contrary thoughts do battle in such a scenario: the first is the natural motorcycling desire to keep the bike upright by moving, the second is the desire to slow or stop to examine the qualities of possible parking spaces. The first desire was too strong and I found myself quickly moving the bike into a small slot between a car and an ancient wall.

Jenn hopped off and the sudden lightness of the bike cooled my brain enough to realise I had chosen to park on an incline and in a big patch of rocky gravel. Not a good choice. So, I started to straddle-walk Aliona backward, intending to get back on the pavement. The rear wheel hit a rut and Aliona shifted to the right.

I will blame a lot of things at this point — I was on gravel, I was tired from swimming all day, the bike was a little top heavy because of a large bag strapped to the rack — but really I have to accept there was a failure in my state of mind. I was distracted or lazy or some such thing, so when the bike first started falling I had a physical thought of being on the bicycle I take to work each morning. At stop lights, I will often stand astride the bicycle and absentmindedly shift it from thigh to thigh. So, I let Aliona tip, intending to catch her and push her back up with the inside of my right leg. But, you know, Aliona weighs 500 lbs — considerably more than my bicycle.

She continued to tip and too slowly my brain registered: “Oh, I need to put some actual strength into this.”

“Shit. Shit,” I said, glancing at Jenn. “It’s going. Helphelphelphelp.”

It was at this point I learned I had married a women without quick reflexes. I love her dearly, but I think I have to accept that when the zombie apocalypse comes she’ll be one of the first to go. She just stood there, watching, as Aliona tipped slowly, slowly, slowly onto her side with me grunting and swearing the whole way down.

A soft crumple. And then the sound of several men shouting: “Oooh!”

Of course, I had dropped the bike right in front of the pub, right in front of the beer garden, where I had an audience of no less than 40 inebriated individuals. As I clicked off the engine with the kill switch I caught in the corner of my eye a couple on a Harley-Davidson crawling by. For some reason it felt like insult to injury; I am still such a newbie that I feel often I’m being judged by other motorcyclists. Other motorcyclists who aren’t picking up their bike in front of a pub.

I got off lucky.

Thankfully, I’ve watched plenty of YouTube videos explaining what to do in this situation, so I extended the kick stand, nudged my butt into the seat and pushed the bike back up from a squat position. Aliona came back up easily, aided by the adrenaline rush that comes from overwhelming embarrassment.

Now the couple from the Harley were approaching — a man and woman.

“This gravel, mate” said the man in a broad Australian accent. “I was just sayin’ to the wife the only thing I don’t like about this pub is havin’ to park in gravel.”

“She’s actually come out of it alright,” he said, running his hand along the fairing. “Just a few scratches here. A scratch there on the exhaust…”

“Yeah, just my pride that’s hurt the most,” I said.

“Well, that’s the rule, isn’t it, mate? You can’t drop your bike unless there’s an audience. I’ve been riding I don’t know how many years, and, honestly, I have never dropped my motorbike… unless there’s been at least a dozen fellas around to laugh at me. This gravel, I reckoned I’d be on the ground with you. But, see, I parked over there, out of sight, so everything went fine.”

Despite the shame, Jenn and I decided to stay at the pub. She went in and got drinks while I sat outside trying to absorb the tremendous shame of having done such a stupid thing in front of so many people. I hyper-analysed the incident and said a little thank you to the gods that I had gotten through it with only damage that could be covered up by the Minnesota Twins decal I’ve been wanting to put on the fairing.

They say it happens to everyone. Now it’s happened to me. My ego is still bruised.