Hello and welcome to the first installment of a new series called 2 Wheels Moves the Soul. In this series I will be interviewing members of the riding community to find out what riding means to them and how it has impacted their lives. Everyone’s story is unique and my goal is to explore the deeper connection we all experience with riding and to share the stories with you.
For today’s post we will be hearing from fellow Northwest rider Candiya (can-DYE-ya) Mann. I stumbled across one of her blog posts and was captivated and inspired by her story of love, loss, community, two wheel adventures and more.
Candiya was first introduced to motorcycles by her boyfriend Mike when she would ride on the back as a passenger. At first she was tentative, but her love of motorcycles and Mike quickly grew until one day an accident changed everything. In this interview we wil hear how she overcame a terrible tragedy and the role that riding and the motorcycle community played in her journey.
She also just released an e-book titled On Grief, Hope, and Motorcycles. Candiya is a truly gifted story-teller and I highly recommend this book. Whether you have suffered a loss or just want to be inspired, you won’t be disappointed. Here is an excerpt from the book description:
...An unflinching window into one woman’s path towards healing, including the ugly, painful, awkward, funny, and absurd stories along the way. It is a story of stepping up, again and again, and reaching for life.
Alright let’s get started! This is a long post, but if you are like me once you start reading you won’t be able to look away. So sit back, get cozy and enjoy.
ERIC: Hello Candiya! Let’s start by finding out a little bit about you. Where did you grow up?
CANDIYA: I was a “mountain kid”. I grew up in the Santa Cruz mountains, about an hour south of San Francisco.
What do you do for a living?
Social science research and program evaluations for federal grant recipients.
What is your favorite place on earth?
It’s too hard to pick just one!
How did you first get into motorcycles?
I got into motorcycles through riding as a passenger with Mike. I was completely new to motorcycles and was SO nervous. It was really important to him that I was comfortable. In our first few rides, he didn’t go over 30 miles an hour, then we kept it under 50. We took it slowly, and it paid off. I ended up absolutely loving riding with him.
For our first two-up group ride, we rode sweep to Neah Bay. A couple of hours into the ride, I realized that my cheeks were sore from smiling nonstop. That was the beginning of my love affair with riding.
I never would have learned how to ride my own if Mike didn’t have to go out to sea on the submarine. Since he’d be gone for months at a time, my options were to go without riding, find a friend to take me as a passenger, or learn how to ride myself. I took the MSF course and still didn’t know if I wanted to ride my own so I got a bike for practicing.
Sounds like you were hooked! I wouldn’t have been able to go that long between rides either, especially when I was first starting out.
So what did you decide on for your first bike?
My first bike was a 1997 Honda VFR. Unfortunately, it was just too heavy for me so I sold it and bought a 2005 Yamaha XT225. I loved that bike!
I haven’t ridden an XT225, but now I may have to give it a try!
How about your current bike? Dream bike?
Currently, I have a Honda CBR250R and a BMW F800R. I use the CBR for the track and back roads twisties and the F800R for touring.
Before the inaugural ride on the BMW, August 2011. [Photo credit: Mike Bartlett]
My dream bike? It would probably be the KTM RC8R 1190. It was the only bike at the 2013 motorcycle show that felt like home when I sat on it. I don’t have any business on an 1190 now…but maybe someday!
Excellent choice! I wouldn’t mind throwing a leg over one of those.
Ok, enough about bikes for a bit, can you tell us about how you and Mike met?
Mike and I met through Match.com. For our first date, we went out to dinner at a sushi restaurant. We had such a good time razzing and teasing each other that after dinner, I offered to show him a couple local parks. He had just moved to the area so we went for a walk at Clear Creek Park, then we stopped by the Silverdale Waterfront Park. At that point, the sun was about to set so we went to Anthony’s for dessert and coffee. It was roughly an eight-hour first date!
Wow, that’s quite a first date! Obviously you both hit it off from the beginning.
I’m sure this is very difficult for you to talk about, so I’ll let you decide where this goes. If you can, could you share a few details about Mike’s accident?
The last piece that I wrote for my book was the description of the accident. It took me a long time to work up the courage to face reliving that day. It was a very difficult, but ultimately healing, piece to write. I’ll leave the detailed description there. (It was hard enough to write once – don’t need to do it twice!)
But I don’t mind sharing the broad strokes of the accident story here. It was the day after Mike returned from the last deployment of his career. I picked him up at the Seattle airport in his truck with his bike loaded in the back, and we drove down to Baker City to meet up with his friends who were already riding. This was their much anticipated annual motorcycle road trip. Mike and I spent the night together in Baker City, and the next morning, he set off with his friends on the bike. I got the call roughly an hour into my drive home. He had missed a turn, gone off the road, and did not survive.
Ugh… I can’t imagine getting that phone call. I would be devastated. I’m so sorry.
After what happened, I’m sure a lot of people would have given up riding and never wanted to see a motorcycle again. How did you decide to get back on a bike?
In the days immediately following the accident, I had no idea if I’d continue riding or not, if bikes would be repugnant to me or not. But every time I saw my little red Honda, I felt the same affection for it that I’d always had. About a month later, I decided to give riding a shot. I put on my most protective gear and asked a friend to accompany me. I told him that I made no promises about how long we’d stay out. If it didn’t feel right, I wasn’t going to push it.
But it felt good enough that I went just a little farther, then just a little farther still. Ultimately we rode about 80 miles of back roads. During this ride, I had moments of peace that were precious and rare.
From that point on, I promised myself that I would trust my heart when it came to riding. As long as it felt good, as long as it felt right, I’d continue. If it didn’t, I’d take a break. So far, it continues to feel right.
Candiya’s first ride after Mike’s accident – Seabeck, WA, Sep 2012. [Photo credit: Michael Busbee]
Did riding help you deal with the grief?
Yes, in many ways. Riding got me out of the house and into nature, which is a healing setting for me. It created mental space for processing all the memories and feelings. And riding is when I feel closest to Mike.
Does anyone ever tell you you’re crazy to continue riding? How would you respond to them?
When people, especially non-riders, find out that I still ride, a look of pity and incomprehension passes over their faces. They don’t actually say it out loud; I just get the look. I never know how to respond so I usually end up shrugging awkwardly.
When the movie Why We Ride came out, there was a thread on a motorcycle forum that asked, “Why do you ride?” Responding to that thread was the first time I was able to articulate the answer to that question. When I posted in the thread, this is what came out:
I ride for the sensation.
I ride for the community.
I ride because challenging my fears reminds me that I’m alive.
I ride because, while I can talk to my lost love anytime, it’s the one time I know he’s listening.
That is one of the most amazing responses I have ever read to the question “why do you ride”. I think I’m getting goosebumps!
So not only did you refuse to give up riding, you seem to have taken it to a whole new level. You have taken some amazing trips and had some very cool experiences; can you give us a few highlights?
One thing I can say about riding is that it has given me a venue to challenge myself, to stretch myself. And every time I have stepped into the unknown and faced my fears head-on has been completely worthwhile. My trips might be pretty tame to some, but coming from being the most timid rider in the world, they were huge for me!
So…a few of my favorite moments…
In September of 2013, I took a solo trip from Washington to California, over 2,300 miles roundtrip. It was my first solo trip, and I had no idea if I could do it. Honestly, I didn’t know when I set off if I’d make it back home. This trip was just something that I felt compelled to do in my journey towards healing after Mike’s accident.
One of my favorite memories of the trip is from the second day. I was traveling a back roads route through Oregon that included NF 42 and 46. Finding those roads was like discovering my happy place in the world. They eventually narrowed down to a single lane of beautiful black pavement, with wildflowers lining the way through the forest. It was warm, and I could feel the sun on my back.
I was on the edge of being lost. At every intersection, I stopped and consulted the printed cue sheets, paper map, and GPS. I’d make my choice and continue on, meandering through the beautiful forest. I saw a gorgeous field of wildflowers and a little bit later found a wooden sign to the Pacific Crest Trail. I wondered what else I’d find as I moved along. It was one of those moments of stillness and motion, pure contentment and curiosity. It was one of the first times on the trip that I realized that, even though I might be in the process of getting myself horribly lost, I was still okay.
It turned out that I wasn’t lost after all, and when I came out on a main road, I was actually disappointed to be finished with that part of the ride, rather than relieved to be back on a main road. This was the first time that I discovered that I love to explore, that being “slightly lost” is a good thing.
NF 46 in Oregon, Sep 2013. [Photo credit: Candiya Mann]
Another favorite moment…
In January of 2014, I flew to Mexico to ride motorcycles. The plan was to stay with a couple from the motorcycle forum that I’d never met before (Lee and Christine) and ride Lee’s motorcycles with him. Believe me, there were many times before my flight that I wondered if I was crazy. “Traveling alone to stay with people I’ve never met before? Maybe I’ll never be heard from again!” But Lee and Christine were wonderful people, as were Del and Andrea, another PNW couple that came down at the same time.
One of my favorite moments from the trip occurred on my first morning in Mexico. I was absolutely petrified of riding. Lee and Del had spent the prior afternoon getting me up to speed on all the dangers of the Mexican roads and drivers. This litany combined with my own timid nature had produced a full-on case of, “I don’t know if I can do this.”
But I got on the GSX-R 750 that morning, felt the controls, lifted the bike off the stand to test the weight, and decided to give it a shot. Lee, Del, and I rolled out through the neighborhood, making it through the gauntlet of speed bumps and the corner with its wash of sand. I could not have been stiffer. When we got to the main road, Lee turned and gave me a thumbs up. I took a deep breath. If I wanted to turn back, this was my chance. But I gave him a nod, and we turned onto the main street. I broke out into a HUGE smile. I was riding in Mexico! Lil ol’ me! Who would have thought? This was a dream come true.
We continued through town and wound our way up into the beautiful jungle-covered hills, before descending and traveling out to the coast. Pulling up on the hard pack above the beach…I don’t think I’ll ever forget that feeling. I wanted to simultaneously jump up and down to celebrate and pinch myself in disbelief. “Am I really at the beach in Mexico? And did I really ride here?”
In reality, this was just a small ride – no more than an hour – but it was huge for me. I started off several years ago only willing to travel two well-planned routes early on weekend mornings when there wasn’t any traffic. And here I was riding an unfamiliar bike in a new country with new friends. I was learning that I could do far more than I had ever expected of myself.
Playa Tenacatita, Mexico, January 2014. [Photo credit: Del Heikkila]
Reading those stories makes me want to get out on my bike and go for a ride right now. Very cool.
I heard you even tried a few track days. Can you tell us a little about your experiences at the track?
Sure, I’ve done a total of six track days (all in the slow group) and three track schools. I can think of a couple pivotal experiences at the track.
My first track day was September 26, 2012, about a month after the accident. Mike and I had signed up together. After the accident, I didn’t know if I could do it. I didn’t decide to go until the day before, and Mike’s friends leapt into action, prepping my bike, loading it in their trailer, and picking me up the next morning.
Getting on my bike to head out to the track for the first session was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. In addition to first track day jitters, I was still in shock from Mike’s loss, plus there was the added sadness of the fact that he should have been there with me. I had so many emotions going in so many directions that it felt like emotional gridlock.
I coached myself, “If you’re going to do this, the time is now, Candiya.” I took a deep breath and rolled out to the track, my arms as stiff as rigid little sticks. I took it slow on the track. My goal was to survive the day, not to ride fast or even to work on my skills. For that day, I was there for a different reason: I still wanted to make Mike proud. Just showing up and riding would be my success.
Every time I came around to the front straight, my friends cheered for me, which was both incredibly touching and heartening and also a bit embarrassing. I made it through that session and ended up riding in most of the remaining sessions of the day. While I was, by far, the slowest rider on the track that day, it still remains one of my most powerful track memories. Sometimes success has nothing to do with speed and everything to do with simply showing up and doing your best. I do think that Mike would have been proud.
Candiya’s first track day – The Ridge Motorsports Park, Sep 2012. [Photo credit: Chris Appel]
The other story I’ll share about the track is from my fifth track day, on July 21, 2014. This was a pivotal day in my riding, where it felt like everything finally started to come together.
In the last session of the day, I was lucky enough to receive a full session of training from a control rider who I respect very much. He is an active racer and was a friend of Mike’s. There were only a couple other riders on the track so it was basically empty. I went bombing through the course, following the control rider then him following me and vice versa.
It felt good; I just let go of my habitual hesitation. I was not reckless, but I was more interested in what was coming down the track, than where I was, which helped me look further ahead. With the control rider’s guidance, I found ways around the corners that had been troublesome. I made friends with them and approached them with relaxation, not fear and tension.
When the session finally ended, we rolled back to my pit area. I pulled my helmet off, and he started to speak. “You looked PHENOMENAL out there!” He kept talking, but my brain had stopped with that word. I saw it in my mind’s eye in bolded red letters, surrounded by blinking marquee lights. Phenomenal? I tuned in to his words again. “You were running better lines than many of the intermediate riders!” I was? After a bit more conversation, where I asked what I should work on next, I thanked him profusely, and he rolled away.
“I did it. I won; I beat riding,” I thought. My relationship with riding has been quite adversarial at times. I wouldn’t allow myself to quit out of fear or incompetence. I wouldn’t let riding beat me. I fought and scrapped for every single iota of skill I possess. And now I had made it. I can’t tell you why this moment meant that I had made it, except that it was a combination of how I felt on the bike and hearing the words from a respected rider. There is a lifetime of learning ahead of me. But since that moment, I finally feel like I can call myself a rider. I can’t wait to do more track days so I can continue to improve.
The Ridge Motorsports Park, July 2014. [Photo credit: Jason Tanaka Photography]
So awesome! I know Mike would be proud and I’m sure you have inspired many others to step out and take a risk even if they don’t think they can do it.
I hear you started a monthly bike night in your area and it ended up being a hit. Can you tell us a bit about that?
I decided fairly soon after Mike’s memorial service that I wanted to try posting regular bike nights. His service was in September; I posted it in October; and we held the first one in November.
There were a couple of motivations behind posting the bike nights. The first was that I wanted a motorcycle community that I could count on. The second was that our section of the forum had been very quiet. There were only a handful of rides posted in the summer of 2012, and nobody showed for most of them. I had a theory that people would be more likely to post and show up for rides if they knew each other socially.
I wasn’t a good enough rider to post rides, but I could post a bike night. If no one showed, it wouldn’t have been the first time that I’d eaten dinner alone. But people did show, and we haven’t missed a month since. We celebrated the two year anniversary of our bike nights last month. We’ve built a wonderful community.
What role did that community play in this difficult time of your life?
It has filled many roles. Without Mike, I had no one to talk to about riding, no one to ask for riding advice, no one to ride with, and no one to teach me about maintenance. The motorcycle community, both Mike’s friends and new friends, stepped in to help with all of this.
The other way that the motorcycle community was important was that after Mike’s death, I felt very alone and vulnerable. I had lost my back-up. This motorcycle community is a group of people who would drop everything to help each other. That is hard to find, and I value it very much.
I am continually amazed at the generosity of the motorcycle community and clearly your example is no exception. I love you guys!
As I was reading your blog posts I was thinking to myself “Wow, she is an excellent writer, and this is an amazing story. She should write a book!” Come to find out, you are working on one right now. Can you tell us a little bit about your book?
Six months after Mike’s death, I began to blog anonymously. It was little essays about life after the accident, everything I couldn’t say publicly. The book is called On Grief, Hope, and Motorcycles. It’s a collection of blog posts and motorcycle ride reports, following my journey towards healing.
What made you decide to write it? Do you have any writing experience?
Our culture is not comfortable with death and grief. I needed a place where I could put the unvarnished truth of my experience so it wouldn’t eat me from the inside out. It was truly an act of self-preservation.
I have no writing experience, aside from writing reports at work. I’ve never taken a creative writing class or joined a writing group.
What message do you hope convey?
Originally, I wrote these posts for myself, but eventually, I decided to release them in a book for several reasons: first, I hope that reading my journey might help someone else in grief, in despair, find some small piece of hope or inspiration, anything that helps them to take a step back from the edge. Second, I hope that people who haven’t suffered a loss might learn something about how to be a companion to people in grief. Third, I hope that people reading my story are inspired to face their own fears. Fourth, and this is a personal one, I wanted to release this book because I think it will be good for me – to take these immensely personal writings that I could not say out loud and set them free into the world.
How and when can we get a copy?
This book has been a monumental amount of work. Seriously, if I had known how much work it would be, I never would have started it! I just released it as an e-book, and it is available on Amazon here:
Alright, so what’s next for Candiya? Do you plan to do more writing? More two-wheeled adventures? Racing?
I wish I knew what was next; I’m curious about that question too! I can never see more than one step ahead. Right now, my goal is to release the book and see what that brings into my life. After that, I don’t have any specific plans, though I would like to do more moto touring, ride in more track days, try some new tracks, attend some more schools, and spectate at some races (Moto GP, Isle of Man TT, Baja 1000, etc.). But right now, I’m just staying open for the next opportunity.
I have no doubt there are many more adventures in your future and I’m excited to hear about them!
Well that is all I had, is there anything else you want to share with us before we finish?
After Mike’s death, people kept telling me, “You’re so strong. I could never handle it like you.” I want people to know that I’m not special – or I’m not more special than anyone else. We are all much more capable than we think we will be, both in handling tragedy and in stepping into adventure. I hope that people will read my story and know that they can survive tragedy too. I hope that people will realize that they don’t need to live a life defined by the limitations of their fears. I’m just as much of a scaredy-cat now as I ever was; I just choose not to listen to those fears if they’re standing between me and something that I want to do, something that will enrich my life and stretch the boundaries of who I think I am. And you don’t need to listen to your fears either.
Very well said.
Thank you again, I really appreciate you taking the time to share your journey. Keep in touch!
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