Carolyn Smith

How old were you when you rode your first motorcycle, and what was it?

My first time on a bike was in college. I didn’t have a car and had started dating this cute guy with a motorcycle (a Nighthawk 750). I didn’t date him because he had a bike, but it didn’t hurt either! It was our only form of transportation for the first several years of college and that was challenging sometimes - I remember pushing him back and forth on it in front of the dorm one cold night while we were trying to push-start the damn thing so we could go out. And I remember my mom wasn’t at all thrilled the first time we rolled up on it at my parents’ house! (Honestly, even 20 years later now, she’s still not thrilled about it but she did recently ask about going out for a ride sometime so maybe she’s finally coming around a bit!)

Well, the cute guy and I married a few years later and he ending up selling that bike for a car. We later moved to Phoenix and the weather was so great there much of the year it seemed a shame not to have a bike, so I surprised him with one (Suzuki Marauder 900) for April Fool’s Day. He was elated when he came home to it sitting in the garage, but I’d had to have the sales guy ride it there for me since I didn’t know how. So, after we moved back to Austin a few months later, I took the MSF course and found that I loved riding by myself! But then I tried to ride the Marauder after getting my license. After embarrassing myself – and worrying about damaging it – by dropping it a few times, I gave up.

Several years and several children later I was ready to try it again, though. I started on a V-Star 650 and got the hang of it pretty quickly that time. I remember practicing in the

The next time I did it, I leaned enough to scrape the peg! He was impressed and I was stoked. From then on out, I just kept practicing, building my confidence, and building my skills. And now riding is my meditation.

How do motorcycles help you meditate? In what way?

I’m a NICU nurse and my shifts start early, so riding to work wakes me up and gets my mind ready for the day. Riding home afterward can be a decompression if it’s been a rough day, and a “rough day at work” in healthcare can be a very bad day.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to either ride or work as much as I’d like lately because I found a lump in my breast last fall. I’ve finished four months of chemo and recently had a double mastectomy. I’ll start radiation very soon.

Not just riding motorcycles has been my support though. So many people in the motorcycle community have been, too. When I first found my lump, it was very large and fast growing and I have three sons, two of whom are quite young. I worried that if something happened – if I died – would they really remember who I am, what I’m like? So I contacted Dalton, who I know through riding and is an amazing photographer. We talked about what was happening, what my fears were, what kind of positive things I wanted to try to do with this experience, and he offered to do photos and videos with me of the whole cancer treatment process. So his generously working with me, someone whom he really only knows through bikes, has helped me so much to process through some of my fears, through losing my hair, through doing chemo, through losing my breasts, and now through trying to learn to be comfortable in my own skin again. Meanwhile, other riders have brought my family food and offered encouragement the whole way. There are so many people that ride that are amazing, kind, creative, adventurous people, and having their support has made this whole thing easier.

Finally, I haven’t been able to ride for months at a time during my treatments because of pain and just being too weak to feel safe on the roads but even when I couldn’t ride, motorcycles have still been my main coping mechanism. To keep my mind busy instead of going crazy with “what if” and worries, I use motorcycles to keep me looking forward instead of looking backward. I’ve been researching what bike I might want to get next and comparing one model against another, looking at what kind of mods I would want to do to them, how much insurance would be – it gives me something within my control I can work on, even when I’m in the middle of “the suck.” Also, since I just had my surgery a few weeks before MotoGP came to Austin, one of my recovery goals was to be able to attend the race and some of the associated events. And I did it! I got myself weaned from pain meds, got my post-surgery drains removed, and started figuring out my new normal enough be able to get out and do it just two weeks after surgery.

Would you ever go as far to say that motorcycles are like medicine?

I’ve been taking a daily “happy pill” for depression for a few years but, for anyone who has experienced depression, you know it tends to suck the energy out of you. Motivation to get out and do anything becomes harder muster. Even if it’s a beautiful day out, my inclination sometimes will still be to just want to stay in because getting dressed and going out seems like a lot of work. I’ve found that if I can push myself a little bit to just get out on the bike on my favorite winding back road, just a few minutes into the ride it’s as if my whole sense of self will be lifted by the wind flying past me, the smell of cut grass, the focus on the road, and the feel of the throttle twisting in my hand. It’s a near-instant lift.

Photos by Dalton Campbell & Daniel Nguyen