Women Riders

Inspirational Women: Marybeth Mitcham - Conquering Fear

Written by  August 1, 2014

Facebook is filled with pages devoted only to women riders. I joined or “Liked” a few and was invited by Joan Krenning to join her new page, Steel Horse Sisterhood. Being just a pillion warmer with a crushed ankle, I was honored to be asked. I immediately introduced myself as the Women Riders columnist for Cycle Connections Magazine, and asked if anyone had an inspirational story, to please contact me. Marybeth Mitcham’s story, in her own words, is this month’s Inspirational Woman.

I have known a lot of fear in my life. The gnawing fear of going hungry, the numbing fear of continued abuse, the paralyzing fear of an unexpected medical diagnosis, and the bitter fear of the devastating effects of war on a spouse have been my companions. I have known what it is like to face the fear that the age of 17 is too young to become a parent. I have known what it is like to fear that I had lost any chance at making something of my life. I have let fear of the unknown, of the future, and of failure keep me frozen in a state of stupefied stasis, wearying me as I frantically fought against taking any steps that would allow me to rise out of my situation. A little over a year ago, at the age of 34, I made a decision to conquer one fear. I learned how to ride a motorcycle.

It’s funny—when you tell people that you want to learn how to ride, you end up on the receiving end of a lot of unwanted and unhelpful advice. I can’t begin to count how many horrific accidents I heard about, filled with gruesome descriptions of mangled bodies as the tale-tellers gleefully recounted multiple tales of motorcycling disaster. Most family members and friends would invariably not only stop at providing excessive cautionary tales, but would elicit the assistance of others to aid in their motorcycle-blocking efforts. I heard many reasons as to why I should not ride, ranging from the fact that I am a woman (I still don’t understand that reasoning), to how irresponsible it would be for a mother to ride and risk her children losing their mom (at which point another horrific accident story would most likely be told), to the fact that I am not exactly the most coordinated individual. My parents bewailed my decision. My sister tried to berate me into changing my mind. Older relatives attempted to reason with me, appealing to my logical side. It only made me more determined to ride.

I purchased a 1997 Yamaha Virago 1100, and began to learn how to ride a motorcycle. My husband, an accomplished rider himself, brought me to parking lots, and went through the basics with me. I learned important lessons such as how to mount and dismount a motorcycle without tipping it over, that a death grip on the throttle will make it hard to use the front brake (and that a death grip on the front brake will cause the engine to race—moderation is the key!), applying the front brake while in a slow turn will most certainly result in the motorcycle being dumped, and that protective gear really does work. Even though my pride caused me to consider quitting several times, I pushed through until I was able to finally ride in circles, figure eights, and even get up to 3rd gear! After around 100 miles worth of parking lot riding, I took the Motorcycle Safety Course, learned even more (such as the friction zone is my friend, don’t look down or the bike will go down, and that everyone drops the bike at least once), and passed the course. Earning my motorcycle license was one of the proudest days of my life. It was not an award that was handed to me, but something that I earned all on my own. I faced my fear and conquered it.

I have been riding for a year now, and am truly in love with riding. I still have the butterflies-in-my-tummy feeling when I get on my motorcycle for a ride, but have learned to channel that fear into fun. I still hear the motorcycle accident horror stories from friends and family, but refuse to let it affect me. I have also learned that facing fear in one area leads to success in other areas. The confidence gained from learning how to ride has empowered me to be more resolute in other areas. Instead of letting the fear of my circumstances dictate my life, I have learned to face that fear head-on with temerity. I have learned to enjoy the ride.