"I'm a trained observer."
That's my stock reply to somebody who has just expressed amazement that I had observed and remembered something in particular. There are a lot of people who look but don't really see. Even seeing something doesn't mean our eyes are telling us what's really there. The input from our eyes is processed by our brains. Therein lies the rub. Weirdly enough, our brains will lie to us. After all the filtering of the initial information is finished we often end up seeing what we expect to see, not what's really there.
The reasons for that are too many to discuss in this post. I'm sure you can think of examples in your own life. One quick example is in reading words. Have you ever found yourself reading the wrong word because the actual word looked a lot like what you were already familiar with? In this case our own personal vocabulary tainted what we saw and kept us from seeing the correct word at first glance.
Most of the time it doesn't matter in the long run. Other times it makes a huge difference. Like when we're betting our physical safety on that filtered information. Riding a motorcycle is one of those times. I don't know for sure sure as I've only been riding for 43 years, but it sure seems to me like it would be critical to make sure we know the truth behind what our eyes are looking at. That's the difference between seeing and observing. Seeing can produce fiction. Observing is getting the actual facts.
Here's an example of a trained observer on a motorcycle.
Of course, I always seem to have the wrong lense or vantage point when wandering about. The officer looks to be just sitting there looking around. Actually, he's observing something going on down the street a bit. Here's a closer look.
The officer is observing the proceedings. He has to be quick to spot critical events that will suddenly cause the situation to become ugly. Whether from the demonstrators or from those with opposing viewpoints. What looks like casually looking on is in reality vigilant observation.
Riders need to do the same thing.
Later on I parked Elvira and took some photos of one area. It looks like a fun place to ride on a rural road with plenty of corners. Which it actually is. Using our powers of observation, however, let's see what it really represents to a rider.
Please note that the bike is well off the roadway and out of danger! The following photos were taken within fifty feet of the bike. The point is that there is much more to any situation than initially meets the eye. Our job is to observe everything that's really present. Especially critical situations.
It doesn't show in the photo, but we've traveled several miles on a twisty road that follows a river. It's been a fun ride. Between the scenery and the curves, it's easy to get lulled into just looking around and enjoying the ride. Okay, those two things are important, but there's much more to it than that.
Here's an intersection right across the road from the bike, as you can see. Depending on the direction of travel, this is the beginning or the end of another great motorcycle road. The other end is in South Salem, several miles away. It's amazing how many drivers use this road in both directions. Which means a surprising amount of traffic. Here's a shot of the intersection from the other direction.
Seeing means noting that there is an intersection. Observing, on the other hand, reveals some actual critical information about the situation. For instance, note the unique angles involved. Drivers are going to have to compensate for this weird configuration both when entering and exiting the intersection. Note the next two photos.
Drivers exiting have limited visibility in both directions. If you look behind Elvira in the earlier photo, you can see that anyone approaching from that direction has limited visibility as well. Our "observing" should have started much sooner and made us realize that blind corners should be negotiated with the worse case scenario in mind. Better to be pleasantly surprised, as they say.
Once we can actually see the intersection, we should have observed the weird angle and realized another dangerous aspect.
Drivers entering the intersection from the direction this blue car came from can't make the curve easily while remaining in their lane. This small car is doing pretty good, but most rigs either have to swing wide on the side road or do so on the approach road. Which means that a rider could round a blind curve only to find a vehicle partly in their lane.
If a rider has been observing the situation as they approach it and riding accordingly, there will be enough time to react. On the other hand, a rider merely seeing a curvy road and not observing the true implications is likely to suffer a nasty surprise. The total opposite of the aforementioned pleasant surprise!
This side road is tough enough as it is. We haven't turned around and looked in the other direction, yet. Remember, Elvira is still parked. I merely turned around and pointed the camera the other way. Take a look.
The road passes underneath a railroad trestle. The posted speed for the curves is 15 mph. I will probably be riding a bit faster. Following another vehicle isn't going to be any fun. Which means I'll look for the curves to be clear or will hang back and let this van clear, then go for it. Prudently, of course, as it's still a blind corner until I get halfway through. Check out this sequence.
What if we had just rolled up and hadn't seen the van in the first place? What if we had come off the side road, for instance? Our eyes "saw" a clear road. Our brain told us that no vehicle could be hiding in that small blind spot, let alone a big van. Be honest. How many of us would have guessed that there was a van hidden in the curve if all we had seen was the photo of what looked like an empty road? So, based on what we "saw" and our brain "told" us, imagine the nasty shock awaiting us as we started to roll merrily through what looked like a fun corner combination?
True powers of observation would also reveal the narrow roadway under the trestle. This is farm country. Big trucks as well as passenger vehicles frequent this road. We should have gotten a clue about how well traveled this road is by the frustration we felt by having such a great motorcycle road clogged up by everybody. Traffic approaching us faces a blind curve and a narrow lane. Wonder how many are going to stay totally within their own lanes?
I admit this is a somewhat unique situation. There's a lot of critical stuff crammed into a small area. On the other hand, will that uniqueness make it hurt any less if we miss something? Come to think of it, this isn't so unusual after all. I can think of plenty of places I ride where there's a lot going on.
So do me a favor. I care about all of you. Tomorrow the forecast here is for sunshine and 66 degrees ( f ). Spring starts within days for us. More and more bikes will be out. Work on observing the actual facts of each situation so we know what's really there. Don't trust what we "see".
Become trained observers. Ride well and prosper.
Miles and smiles,