I got out of the plane to check the fuel in the tanks. I had just finished my solo short cross-country. I hopped up to the wing, opened up the gas cap, and stuck my measuring stick in the tank holding a finger over the top. I heard a metallic clang. I pulled it out. Nothing. Then panic hit me. I tried the other tank. Same result. How low on my fuel reserves had I gone?
Earlier in the day I had started out on that flight. I had filed my flight plan and talked to the South Bend tower and triangulated my position. Then the tower called me up and told me I was getting very close to air space designated for model rocketry. I corrected my flight path. Then the tower contacted me again. This time sounding snippy and aggravated with me. I hadn't corrected enough. They gave me a vector to follow. I looked at my sectional. How would I ever get to Rensselaer if I didn't know where I was? It was somewhat with awe that I looked down and saw the stone quarry that was one of my visual way points. I landed in at my first stop and looked over and saw that the wind sock was pointing in the wrong direction for what I had landed. I was scared. I had to fly the plane back, but was I capable of doing it safely? And now, here I was holding an empty fuel measuring device, suddenly deeply afraid at what I had put myself through.
When I took SCUBA class there was one important task that needed to be completed in order to get certified. I had to go down, carrying my gear, to the bottom of the deep end of the pool. The instructor gave instructions of what I was to do, "find your regulator, put on your mask, clear it, put on your tanks and Buoyancy compensator." I went down with him, and tried. I couldn't clear my mask, I couldn't breathe. My chest tightened. I reached for his secondary regulator. We came back to the surface. "I panicked" I said. "I was starting to hyperventilate." "I know" he said. "Do you want to try it again?" Yes, I did. They had told us that if we didn't pass this task tonight we would fail the class. We would not get another chance. This time I went down and did the whole thing with my eyes closed. I did it perfectly, without panic.
It was an unusually warm March day. The sky was clear and the sky so very blue. It was a windy day and I was leaning my motorcycle into it. A gust of wind throttling over the open stubbled corn field pushed me into the oncoming traffic lane. Ahead the road dropped down a hill.
In front of me Nick waved his hand emphatically for me to get back to our lane. I saw the oncoming black pickup truck come up over the rise. I leaned on my right hand and willed the motorcycle to move back into the proper lane. I decided right then and there to return home. I continued to crab into the wind until we stopped at an intersection. I honked my horn to get Nick's attention. I thumped my chest and then pointed down the road the way we'd come.
It was too windy for me to handle my motorcycle that day. 'Why was I riding on a day like today?' I thought. I enjoyed warm, sunny, balmy weather rides--especially with the smell of grapes ready for harvest. That was the magic of riding. I rode scared all the way back home. Thankful, I set the kick-stand down in the garage.
A healthy dose of fear keeps you safe.