Evan Firstman skids his BMW GS to a stop half a foot from the gathered class members. His body language is unmistakable. In one energetic motion he swipes the kill switch, flicks open his visor, and thrusts two fists into the air. “Man, that was awesome. I made it all the way through...first time ever!” The rider closest to him receives a hard fist bump to a heartfelt war whoop. The elation in his eyes matches his overt actions.
Here is the bottom-of-the-order baseball player putting one over the fence, or the second-string quarterback making the touchdown pass. A man with a serious business—dozens of employees who depend on him, a family to provide for—stands there, eyes sparkling and voice raised like a teenage athlete on an adrenaline high. He swivels around, taking in the rest of the group, grinning like an idiot—looking for a cheerleader, or mom and dad in the stands? And all he did was pilot his R1200GS Adventure through the Commitment Turns, a set of nasty switchbacks carved into parallel hills for the purpose of teaching students about momentum, gravity, and confidence.
If you ever needed evidence that learning can keep you young, here it is. Longtime riders (and late-starting newbies alike) come to schools like RawHyde Adventures (www.rawhyde-offroad.com) with the rational explanation that they want to improve their skills, become safer riders, and in this case master the art of handling a large adventure bike in true off-road conditions. That’s the brain explaining the credit-card charge to the spouse, the super ego deftly elbowing the id into a dark corner.
But we know that explanation is bunk. We—okay, I’m projecting...I really just mean “I”—gravitate to all kinds of schools because they’re good for us in other ways. They help us redefine our boundaries and push our limits. But the best schools also give us life; they take us to the place in our youth where we learned something new every day, where we gobbled up new information the way a Labrador takes down a dropped T-bone.
I am not alone. My cohorts at RawHyde this year included a wide range of riders, some very green but most with half a lifetime of miles under their belt. An airline pilot and his brother came to ADV riding after years on Harleys because of the promise of new adventures, sure, but also because these bikes are very different from what they know. They’re smart enough to appreciate that filling the panniers and pointing to the distant horizon represents significant risk that only training and confidence can reduce.
It’s great to watch attitude progression over the weekend. Students new to RawHyde gather on Friday night, drink a lot of free beer, and ask questions of those attending the advanced courses. Is it challenging? Will I crash? Can I do this? (Yes to all three.) At this stage, the men are just beginning the transition from orthopedic surgeon, CEO, entrepreneur—or whatever they are in real life—to wide-eyed kids eager to gain new skills. Saturday night, everyone’s sore and a little bruised, and you can watch the strongly analytical types working through their failures a piece at a time, trying to get to the root of their problems. More beer, a fantastic meal, and good company do their thing. Overnight, the subconscious chews on the lessons.
The next morning, everyone’s a little different. Some of the confidence lost the day before has reappeared, and most of the students are now comfortable in the camp routine. Eat, ride, eat, ride, drink, eat, sleep. Sunday night is the best. The bulk of the beginning students have that look, an almost hidden mien that says, “I got it. I understand.”
The end always comes too soon. Whatever you are in the outside world—no matter how many people you manage or how many lives and livelihoods are beneath the scalpel in your hand—by the end of class on Sunday you’re a kid again, reveling in your successes, ruing your mistakes. You’re not the professional you brought to RawHyde, possibly thinking about the opportunities you didn’t take when you were 15 or 30. You leave young, pondering the possibilities still out there ahead of you.