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Riding: A metaphor for life

Over the past five years I have racked up over 43,000 miles riding motorcycles and have learned many things about the whole process. It’s not just a matter of how to mount, start, and operate the bike. It’s about trip planning, maintenance, safety, skills, awareness, frame of mind, and a host of other things that blend into the overall motorcycling experience.

Fortunately, none of the lessons I have learned involved loss of life (obviously), limb, skin, or even my dignity. Well, maybe there was some partial shame associated with getting my bike stuck in the snow with my wife riding pillion. But, as with life’s little experiences, we learn from our mistakes and we roll forward, hoping to avoid the accidents and inconveniences in future miles.

During one of my practice rides along Marmot Road, I was focusing on looking through the turns. Marmot Road is not in the best of shape. It has a lot of bumps, pot holes, and tree debris that can make a great ride go south in a hurry. My first instinct is to look at the pavement immediately in front of my bike. This makes my turns much slower than they should be and smoothness becomes a near impossibility. When I look ahead and keep my eyes focused farther up the road, my turns are fast and smooth and controlled. The thought occurred to me that there is a life lesson in that.

When we progress from day to day, if we have our eyes down at the minutiae traveling under our feet we lose sight of the big picture and become bogged down with trivial, petty annoyances. Minor bumps in the road seem much larger than they are, keeping us from living our lives smoothly and in control. Keeping our eyes focused farther ahead and more aware of the big picture enables us to overcome life’s little obstacles with greater ease and comfort.

I don’t intend to upstage Robert Pirsig or hijack the wisdom of his Zen work, but mentioning the parallels between motorcycle maintenance and life in general is worth the virtual ink. Keeping our bikes running smoothly isn’t very effective if we take a purely reactive approach. Exercising and eating right is just as important for our bodies as changing the oil and filters on a regular basis is to our bikes. We can go off-road or ride a little harder through the twisties or let the bike get frivolously dirty from time to time, but eventually we need to take a step back and give it a rest and take it easy, let the bike recover. Our minds and bodies are the same way. We can push things when we need to but sooner or later we need to offer up some give in equal measure to the take.

Finally, a motorcycle with all the world’s polished chrome and tricked out accoutrements is worthless if it never gets out of the garage and ridden. I wear the splattered bugs and road grime on my bike proudly because that is a certain indicator that I have been somewhere interesting. On the rare occasions when I see my bike parked in the garage washed and shiny I actually feel a sense of impatient guilt, as if I’m keeping it from having fun. We can talk all day about what we want to do in life, discuss our dreams and what-if scenarios until the cows come home, but ultimately all that verbal chrome is worth nothing more than a gnat’s fart until we take that first step out of our front door and actually walk the walk.

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