Firsts and Lasts

There are some people in this world who, when given the opportunity to try something they’ve never done before, manage to succeed. To accomplish what they set out to do. They’ll perhaps get some instructions from an expert, or tinker around on their own, and, after fumbling around for a second or two, emerge victorious. Able to ride a horse. Or sew a straight line. Whatever.

And then there are people in this world who, when given the chance to do something new, will fail miserably and possibly also nearly kill themselves.

As ‘luck’ would have it, I belong to the second camp of individuals. In fact, I may be the only member of the second camp of individuals. I mean, a few months after the professor and I were married, we decided on the spur of the moment to stop at a hobby farm that offered horseback rides. I’d never been on a horse before, but how hard could it be to sit on a pack animal’s back and meander along a dirt path for a while? Especially when said animal is labeled ‘really mellow’? More like ‘obstinate, with a mind of its own’, as I found out. Also, the professor’s horse (walking directly in front of my horse) kicked me in the knee. Probably because my stupid horse sniffed his butt.

One near-death experience and purple knee later, I was done with horses.

So it’s beyond me why, fourteen years later, I agreed to try my hand at riding a quad (aka ATV). Maybe because when I’d watched the professor take our three year old for a spin, he was riding around in a square patch of field. Slowly. It seemed sort of like driving one of those motorized cars I dreamed of having when I was little.

I didn’t think about the logistics of navigating an uneven, shrubby, hilly landscape. Or driving through mud. Or keeping the quad away from trees.

No, I thought I was signing up for a fun excursion on the adult equivalent of a camouflage-Barbie car. So I, naively, hopped on my designated quad. Our friend showed me where the gas was – a lever by my (right) thumb, and the brakes (same place as a bike’s, I think). And off we went. When I nearly drove into the fence just trying to get onto the road….that should have been my first clue that I was headed for disaster.

Picture it: Nicola, sitting on a quad, driving on a miserably winding, bumpy road. Quad begins to veer to the left, so Nicola tries to correct its errant ways by steering to the right while inadvertently pressing down on the accelerator. Heavily. Quad lurches forward in the opposite direction at an ‘uncomfortable’ speed.

My thought process was as follows: [four letter word] ‘I’m going to wreck this expensive machine.’ [Four letter word] ‘I’m going to seriously maim myself.’

We were driving through a patch of land that had trees on the right. Again, the quad was veering to the left, so I adjusted my steering and (unwittingly) pushed down on the accelerator so hard, I nearly went headfirst into a tree. I still have no idea how I missed that tree.

All I could think as I hyperventilated over my close call with death, and yearned to run away from the scene as fast as possible, was ‘you can’t ask your kids to try stuff if you won’t.’ So I soldiered on, bleakly. Until we got to the top of a hill (less than a hundred yards from the finish line). Our leader said, ‘you’ll have to lean to the left on the way down’ (so the quad won’t flip over) and, after thinking it over for a minute, I abandoned my machine at the top of the hill.

‘How was it,’ the professor asked. ‘Great,’ I replied. ‘Like the horse?’ he asked in marital shorthand.


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