December 12, 2017
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Hill Country: Riding Focuses Attention

CHESTER, VT – When I throw my right leg over the saddle and settle in for a ride on my motorcycle I’m suddenly in a completely different world. It’s a place where the risks are greater, where you need to bring a level of concentration based on situational awareness. Riding focuses attention, your eyes keep sweeping side-to-side, the fingers of your right hand poised over the brake lever in traffic and in town. I imagine myself in a bubble with very limited dimensions of just a few feet in all directions. The idea is to exercise as much control over that bubble as possible, always being alert for anything that could affect it. All of this focusing has a very interesting effect on the brain. All of the daily clutter disappears, worry vanishes, and you are suddenly living in the moment. I’ve always said that you are so busy trying to survive that your mind has no capacity for anything else.

A lot of people who ride refer to the activity as therapy and I suppose it is. I’ve certainly used riding as therapy during difficult periods in my life. I remember one such period when I rode thousands of miles per year in an attempt to essentially fix myself, get my head straight, get right with myself. I’ll freely admit that motorcycling helped me to figure out what wasn’t working in my life so that I could fix it. How many miles do you have to ride before certain truths actually dawn on you? There is no answer. Riding is just a part of it, not the complete answer.

Epiphanies can happen as a result of riding. I’ve experienced more than one occasion where a nagging problem has gone on to the back burner as soon as I got on the bike and, during the ride, a solution has popped into my head. It’s a case of the conscious mind being so concentrated that the subconscious kicks into gear and works out a solution to the problem du jour. A good night’s sleep can often do the same thing, but there’s something epic about having that “aha” moment while cresting the top of a mountain pass at speed or crossing a bridge from the mainland to an island.

I spent a lot of years riding with groups and other individuals, and it was similar to the times I’ve gone downhill skiing with people who ski better than I do. You get better just by following people with greater abilities. There have been days when I have gone skiing or gone motorcycling with others who pushed my limits to the point of mental exhaustion. Every one of those occasions was good for me and made me better. It’s amazing when your mental boundaries get challenged and stretched at the same time that you are focused on merely surviving. Your eyes take in the moves that the rider in front of you makes and your brain processes the cause and effect of that riders maneuvers. Eventually, you find yourself experimenting with that line or that degree of lean that you’ve been witnessing.

Riding in a group requires all of the riders to play by the same rules. While riding in a group of motorcycles, you ride in a staggered formation in case someone has to swerve to avoid a road hazard, thus reducing the possibility of running into another rider. One of the last times I ever rode in a group I had a guy that I did not know who kept pulling up beside me. This made me very nervous, and the next time we came to a junction I took a left-hand turn and just kept on going, leaving the group behind. That was years ago and I have to admit that since then I have rarely ridden in a group. I tend to be a solitary rider these days and that works really well for my rather infrequent therapy rides. These days it seems that solo rides are exactly what I need whenever I do ride. I suppose our spiritual side needs to be fed every so often, and a solo ride works for me.

That’s what riding motorcycles can do for a lot of people. We all ride for different reasons and in my younger years, it was the visceral feel of speed and wind. As the years passed, the activity grew into something else. Sure, I don’t shy away from the occasional blast up a curvy mountain road but more and more the experience is more a journey into retrospection and an opportunity to be in my head in a very effective manner.

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