Revisiting an Adventurous Decade Countdown 2010: Motorcycle Satori

Happy Holidays Season to you and yours. I thought I would jump on the bandwagon on decade count-downs and share some posts from the past over the days to the New Year and Decade. I’ll choose a post from each year, sometimes at random, sometimes with a little searching or thought, sometimes a favourite…and share them out. This post comes from when I recently returned from Everest 2010 and was pouring my attention towards learning to adventure motorcycle and away from the grief of not getting to climb as high as I wanted to on that climb. It was originally posted on July 4, 2010


Happy Fireworks Day,

It was a busy week fitting back into the routine of teaching and trying to get out on my bike as much as possible. I’m teaching two courses this summer: one in park management and one in outdoor skills. The students are mostly the same in both so we can draw a number of parallels between the material and skills covered. Tuesday, we spent a wet day hiking from Shea Heights to Black Head. It was great to be out but the windy rainy conditions made it challenging to stop and have class along the way. The hike felt good; I think I have been missing movement.

I like to turn myself into a student at regular intervals. This gives me the opportunity to experience the vast emotions that learning invokes and helps me emphasize with my students. My new motorcycle is being a diligent teacher. On one occasion, I was trying to start it. I pulled out the choke as instructed by the owner’s manual and pushed the starter button. It cranked and cranked but would start. The same manual said not to crank too long. So I tried several short bursts to no avail. I pushed the choke in and out. I cranked. Then suddenly it hit me, I had not turned on the gas cock. It’s hard to start an engine with no gas supply. Then, my next thought was, “You didn’t do your pre-ride inspection.” The inspection includes a step of turning on the gas cock. Just like pilots, motorcycle riders employ a pre-ride check to insure the motorcycle is safe to go.

Recent research shows that checklists help prevent incidents and complications in surgery. I’ve always used a four-step check with my belayer before I begin every rock climb. I touch and inspect my harness buckle (to make sure it is double-backed), I hold my knot out (to show that it is property tied and tied into the correct spot), I touch my head (knocking on my helmet so I don’t forget to have it on), and I exchange commands (so my belayer is willing to take responsibility for my safety). One of the world’s best rockclimbers took a nasty fall when she didn’t have her buckle double-backed after a bathroom break. When one is regularly exposed to risky situations, it’s easy to become accustomed to that risk and let one’s guard down.

I jumped off the bike and did my inspection routine and then pushed the starter button again, the bike roared to life.

Lesson Number One:
Don’t forget to perform your preflight/ride checklist (in all activities that require them).

My new ride sips gasoline as they say. It gets somewhere in the market of 68-75 miles per gallon. Thus being so, I haven’t had to fill up very often. Yesterday I filled up. Locking gas cap came off pretty easy, gas went in, tank filled. Then it was time to get the gas cap back on. It wouldn’t go. I tried turning the key to release the little grabber thingies on the side. No luck. I tried turning it sideways. No go. I start again. Try again. Cars come and go beside me. I feel like an idiot-how hard can it be to get a gas cap on. I look around to see who might be watching. I take my helmet off as it’s getting quite warm standing there. I try again. Ah ha! I’ve been trying to put it on with the front pointing back and the back pointing front. Turn it round and it slips right on. Bingo. Another lesson learned…

Lesson Number Two:
Relax. There are many mechanical things to learn. Nothing to be embarrassed about-just work through them and ask for help if necessary.

One of the things I love most about riding a motorcycle is all the smells that come my way: sweet scents of blossoms bursting out, the pungent rot of a freshly manured field, the delicate hint of rain on the wind. I am in the environment I am travelling through most more so than when sheltered by steel and glass. I find it very meditative and revel in the present mindedness it requires. Though I notice a tendency to daydream in the same way I do when I paddle, hike, or cut grass. I regularly bring myself back to mirror checks, lane checks, speed checks, and keeping an eye on the road ahead. I find after an hour of riding I am exhausted mentally and it’s time to stop.

Without the cocoon of steel and glass and airbags, every moment on the bike is critical. Any mistake can be fatal. I am reminded of sea kayaking in Newfoundland with our very cold-water temps (only one-two degrees above freezing). I usually make paddling decisions based on the rubric of “If you tip, you die.” I recognize the thin edge on which I am playing. I think riding a motorcycle is the same way and I need to stay vigilant, well equipped, and present at all times.

Lesson Number Three:
Stay present. Very present.

All three of these lessons are as critical to mountaineering as they are to motorcycling. When I next set out on a mountain, I will take lessons from the moto with me!

Still waiting for the perfect name for the bike to come to me–I named my new computer, Satori, which means sudden awakening/sudden enlightenment. Here’s to Satori for all of us.


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