Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Climbing the walls.

I can't believe it's come to this. I find myself climbing the cement walls during a break in my class. More accurately, I'm doing the balance thing as I walk on top of them.

How did I get here? Why am I doing this? Maybe the answers are so deeply rooted in my twisted psyche that I don't really want to know. Does it have to do with the fact that I'm staring down the barrel of the years when I'm considered past my prime? Am I doomed to looking for situations where I can prove I'm still agile and coordinated? Some guys my age look for fast cars and even faster young women. Me? I'm an insane Road Warrior who rides a motorcycle and climbs walls.

As I make my way around the curved part I'm thinking of riding a bike. Why must everything always come down to riding? I could swear I actually have a life but it seems that everything in that "life" revolves around riding. Motorcycling is literally the core of my being. There's high viscosity synthetic oil pumping through my veins and chain lube filling my joints. See? Even in describing myself I come back to mechanical terms. My friends call me a gear head. All three of them. Am I really that obsessed? Yeah, pretty much.

I'm okay with that. Riding really can be a Zen-like experience. Spiritual growth towards personal enlightenment can easily be had by those willing to open themselves to the journey. Seriously. A lot of things make more sense to me if I relate them to riding. An equal number of experiences in riding have an application in my life. Like walking on top of concrete walls.

Do you remember a couple of my earlier posts where I extolled the benefits of keeping our eyes up while riding? Success in riding hinges upon the information our eyes bring us. Corner entry speeds, lines, hazard avoidance, and directional control are all helped or hindered by our visual habits. As I walk the walls, though, an added dimension is making its way to the forefront of my brain. It's something that's been lurking in the back of my mind for a long time. As a serious rider I look at every aspect of riding. A pathway of exploration will open up. I am an eager traveller. Every twist, turn, and nuance of the path is examined to its ultimate conclusion. Some of the journey turns out to be merely sightseeing. Along the way, though, gold, diamonds, and other treasures are unearthed.

One such thing of value is this thought that is beginning to intrude upon my consciousness. It is found further along the pathway of keeping one's eyes up while riding. Join me on the wall.

The top of the wall is about eight inches wide. To one side the drop isn't very far. On the other side, though, the drop is more substantial. Not that its' tremendously high. Just enough of a drop to provide incentive for not falling off.

My natural reaction is to look down at my feet. This isn't about directional control or avoiding traffic hazards. It's about not falling off the wall. Weirdly enough, though, the more I stare at my boots, the less balanced and in control I feel. Looking down makes my steps more awkward. I think my feet feel like my neice is going to feel tomorrow. She's taking her driver's test. She knows how to drive. The pressure of the examiner sitting next to her, though, is going to make her forget what she knows how to do. Staring at my feet is making them nervous. A wall top eight inches thick isn't really that hard to walk on. Unless there's added pressure from staring at your feet. From deep within my boots comes the cry to leave my feet alone and let them do what they know how to do.

So I pull my eyes up and quit worrying about my feet. Sure enough, the pressure's off and I do an admirable job of walking smoothly along the wall's top. Even the curve's no problem. My body knows exactly what to do. I just need to keep looking at the bigger picture and let things happen as they should. How does this relate to riding?

I've seen a similar thing happen to my riding students. It's especially evident during an exercise where they practice maximum braking without skidding either tire. Just this last weekend I had a student who would repeatly let his head and eyes drop towards the gas tank as the front of the bike dove under braking. Fascinatingly, ( at least to me, if not him ) as his eyes dropped his braking got more abrupt. It's like his lowered gaze prompted the rest of his body to curl in upon itself. His feet pressed harder and his hands squeezed more forcibly. Skids happened often. Once I finally got him to keep his gaze up everything smoothed out. It was like looking at a different rider. His stops became very competent. He's not the first I've seen have the same experience.

This isn't so much about stability. It's not about finding hazards. Neither is directional control involved. The item on the top of the list is that thing called being smooth. In this case, being smooth isn't just something nice to experience. It can literally be the difference between stopping without incident or crashing. Not everything we do on a bike is a critical matter, I admit. Critical or not, being smooth is much preferable. Keeping our eyes up and letting our body do what it knows how to do will go a long ways toward being smoother. We'll have more fun because we'll feel more in control. Not to mention looking much "Cooler" too!

Walking on top of the walls really wasn't a huge thing. Hundreds of people have done it at this college, I'm sure. No circus is going to try to recruit me for the high wire act. Call it an obsession, but I'm always looking to improve my own skills or find a better way to help others do the same. It's become a part of my nature over the decades to hold my experiences up to the light that is motorcycling. Is there some small gem that will be applicable? One little diamond got polished up some on the top of a concrete wall.

I told you I actually have a life. Just to prove it, I'm going to try to make an application to real life without mentioning riding or motorcycles.

Keeping our eyes up during whatever journey we find ourselves undertaking will help keep things in perspective. Remain focused on a destination down the road. In other words, maintain visual contact with the larger picture. Let whatever we use for balance and motivation take care of the small things. Eyes up will make for a smoother journey.

Wow! That was hard. A whole paragraph. Can we go back to talking about riding, now?

Miles and smiles,


P.S. The Kid's plane is landing in a couple of hours. He's picking up his new bike tomorrow and bringing it over to my place. I'm hoping to get a couple of photos with his mile-wide cheesy grin!


Kano said...

Hey Dan I would have been tempted by the wall too. I still have kids at home and they would have gone for it and I would have had a good excuse, you know the dad playing with kids excuse.

Looking forward to hearing about your Son's new ride.

Michelle said...

Great point. I have found as a relatively new rider still, that when coming to a stop it helps so much to keep my eyes up and looking forward. At times I would look at the car in front of me that's already stopped at a light. I would get shaking and grabby on the brakes. If I look beyond the car I come to a much smoother stop with plenty of room between my bike and the car.

It's funny how much our eyes help us in ways we don't even realize.

irondad said...

I miss that excuse when I want to watch animated movies!

Sounds like you'd already discovered the eyes up thing by yourself. Good for you!