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March 4, 2008

In The “Now”

Nick Diaz

Why do I ride motorcycles? Many who have been riders for a while often ask themselves that question, and every time what seems to be the same old answer reappears in their minds.


Many Tentacle readers of this humble column probably ask themselves what is the sense in having this crazy, inherently suicidal guy go on and on about how wonderful this life-threatening activity is. It’s so dangerous, it should be outlawed. Harry Reasoner once had a “60 Minutes” piece on these terrible, infernal motorcycles; he ended his diatribe with the following question:


“If I were king of the world, would I outlaw motorcycles?”


His self-inflicted answer:


“Perhaps not, but at least I’d think about it!”


In his book, The Power of Now, author Eckhart Tolle explains that many enjoy taking part in risky activities because the threat of harm keeps them in the present, in “The Now.” The immediacy, the now, of riding hard is what many old-timers value most.


When I’m flying down Stottlemyer Road, reading the turns, feeling the tires, applying light braking while simultaneously rolling the throttle, I have no time for other thoughts. When I’m fully present in the riding experience, I have no time for other thoughts. Stottlemyer, Garfield, Ridenour, and Brandenburg Hollow roads are my “Now;” they’re mine, and I’m theirs.


An hour’s ride up Harpers Ferry Road to Sharpsburg, on to Burnside Bridge, Trego Road to Dogstreet (don’t you love that name? I’m not making this up!) can all be a tonic that has no equal, raising my spirits and clearing my head, enabling me to return home and tackle other jobs with renewed energy.


Riding with others, it depends on the company if I feel the same sense of free expression as I do alone. I’m not fond of riding with a large group for this reason, unless the group consists of some very special people, i.e., fellow two-wheeled weirdoes.


Finding other riders whose demeanor, speed-related comfort zone and, ultimately, pace, is close enough to my own is difficult. I’m very lucky that I have a network of close friends who share my motorcycling passion, and whose riding habits are compatible with mine.


Sometimes our basic competitiveness with one another drives us to ride hard enough that we don’t often just kick back and cruise – which is a good thing, as we avoid the temptation to focus on distractions in our lives, and away from the serious business of riding for riding’s sake.


As Seinfeld would often say, however: “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” Other personalities get into the same zone at other speeds and circumstances. The pace that gets my full attention has often been much lower than someone else’s; there are much better, more proficient riders out there, after all.


Maybe I’m lucky my riding skills are not so naturally or consciously developed that I can ride in the “Now” without risking my driver’s license.


I’ve always been fond of mysteries, like the dumbfounding talent of road racers out there you all can see on the Speed Channel – slipping and sliding some milliseconds away from disaster, outlying knee scraping the pavement on hard turns, for 200 miles at a time. Go to the Barbara Frietchie Classic at the Frederick Fairgrounds on the 4th of July, and watch those guys go around the track at 100 mph. Now that’s being in the “Now.”


Conquering our fears, whether we admit it or not, is probably another reason why we ride. We must consider our vulnerability versus vehicles much larger and much more stable – vehicles often operated by people surrounded by and/or seeking distractions, both physical and mental, every time they sit behind the wheel.


Yet we choose to take charge of our situations, and by being fully present to everything around us, in the “Now,” control these situations in order to move on safely up Loy Wolfe to Wolfsville roads, or down Hamburg to Yellow Springs Pike to its urbanized extension, Rosemont and Dill avenues.


In fact, motorcycle riding is an excellent way to exercise the muscle that wrestles all kinds of fear. I worry when I see timid people taking up motorcycling. For whatever reason, they’ve felt compelled to put themselves in harm’s way, yet are insufficiently bold to deal with it.


Riding is dangerous enough that I would never hold it against someone who didn’t want to ride. If one feels the compulsion to ride, he or she should just do it. On the other hand, if one doesn’t really need to ride, then he or she should not. Unless one is prepared to take active control, to be assertive and decisive, and aggressively to claim a safe space, then he or she is simply asking for trouble.


I’ve known most of my motorcycling friends in the “Between-the-Sheetz Gang” for many years, as far back as the late 70’s. All of us have former friends whose spouses insisted they stop riding. If this outlet was their only connection to being in the “Now,” whatever imagined security was meant to be achieved was a Faustian bargain. The often-quoted Franklin: “The man who trades freedom for security does not deserve, nor will he receive, either one.”


Better the risks, the tonic, the “Now” of motorcycling than the predictable, prosaic illusion of security. We know the rewards of truly living and “carping the diem.”


There may well be other means to achieve these life goals. I wish I found enlightenment watching a waterfall, in order to avoid placing myself in the danger inherent in motorcycling. That’s OK, though. I may continue to explore for other means, but for now, I know of no better way to dissolve the past and future, and live in the “Now,” than pointing my Suzuki up the mountain on Route 550 towards Sabillasville and beyond.


There are doubtlessly many forms of such experience – rock climbing, surfing, glider flying, and the like, but I’m either not inclined or not equipped to engage in any of them. We motorcyclists have our way, and I’m happy to share it with you.


Ride Now.


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