What I learned over 265 miles
Yesterday was my first long distance ride on my Guzzi and the first scary thing I’ve done since starting Crossfit and lifting 135lbs (I fully expected my arms to rip off at the shoulders). Despite an inauspicious start (flat battery), I managed to ride for 7 hours and in doing so, had plenty of time to think, and learn a few things. Now I’m not saying that this accumulated wisdom is necessarily useful.. but hey, I’m a sharer…
1. Know roughly where you’re going. Especially the next junction.
Checking your directions at 65 miles an hour in a car is a breeze. Hell, you might be reading this blog post and drinking a cup of coffee while driving on the highway. No problemo. On a bike, whole different story.
I found this out when I took one hand off the handlebars and un-tucked my directions from my back pocket.. only to watch them shoot off over my shoulder. I think they’re probably in Arizona by now. Never mind.. I always have my iPhone right? Except you can’t check your iPhone at 65mph unless you have a death wish. And to check the phone means pulling off to the side of the road (if there is a shoulder), and trying to check Google maps while trucks hurtle by you at high speed. And thats if you can find a signal…About 4 hours into the ride I had my directions written on my arm, a mental chant of ‘turn left at Hwy 24’ and a tank bag added to my shopping list.
Life lesson: You don’t need to know exactly every turn of your journey, but having a vague idea really helps. Oh, and don’t rely on an iPhone. That.
2. Always have some gas in your tank. Or at least know how far you’ve come.
Well duh right? Except you don’t really think about this in your average day in Denver where gas stations abound and your car counts down miles left in your tank. You’re never really far from refueling and if you, for some reason, manage to ignore your gas low warning, you’re only a mile or two walk to the next station. Outside the main towns in Colorado is a whole lot of nothing. Mountains, plains and nothing. Miles and miles of it. Which I realized when I pulled into a gas station in South Park (Cartman not in evidence), to find out that the gas station was ‘out’. Yep, no gas. Next town with a gas station… 47 miles. Across a whole lot of nothing. And because my bike doesn’t have a fancy count down and I forgot to set the trip, I had no idea how much gas I had left. Lets just say it was a very tense 47 miles.
Life lesson: Don’t be so focused on moving forward that you forget to remember how far you’ve come. Oh, and never pass up a chance to refuel in the middle of nowhere.
3. Things get less scary with time.. but that doesn’t mean autopilot.
The first time I rode a motorcycle, my instructor actually held his sides as he howled with laughter. He officially christened me ‘Mouse’ since my approach to the bike was one of absolute terror. Over two days, my fear became his constant touchpoint, and since I barely made it into 3rd gear (and 25mph), he kind of had a point. I’m not a daredevil unless I’m comfortable.. and motorcycles were completely alien to me. Unlike a bicycle, I didn’t feel in control, I didn’t feel safe and I certainly didn’t want to go as fast as possible. In fact, if it hadn’t been sheer bloody mindedness, I’d never had ridden a bike again. But I love proving people (and myself), wrong and I get a perverse kick out of scaring myself.
Fast forward to my Guzzi. It took me about 2 months to get up to 60mph and I celebrated with a Munchian scream inside my helmet and white knuckles that had to be peeled off my grips, finger by finger. Over the months of riding, I’ve gotten more comfortable and I’m a happy 55mph chick. I love the feeling of freedom and there’s something about just riding that’s totally addictive. But I want to explore and at 55mph, that’s is a very slow exploration. So I decide to ovary up and do a long ride. Time to get used to my bike and use the back-roads of Colorado to open her up without fear of a stoplight. And it worked. After 3 hours I was happily cruising at 65, even 70mph and my hands weren’t glued to my grips. I think I might even have taken a hand off to relax at one point. But weirdly, unlike driving, it didn’t make me tune out. Without music or company I got even more focused on the environment. The road, the wind, the incline of the road, the death wish prairie dogs, the surprised deer, the feel of my bike on a curve.. I don’t think I’ve ever been more present. Riding certainly isn’t about autopilot.
Life lesson: If you want to get from A to B as fast as possible, tuning out is the easiest way to get there. If you want to experience A to B.. be present. And of course, everything gets less scary the more you do it (except dating. That remains scary no matter how long or how fast you do it).
4. The world is very very big. And I am pretty insignificant.
Again, not exactly world shattering news for anyone with eyes, but it really hit me yesterday as I crossed the South Park Plains to Fairplay, just how small and insignificant I am. Looking across at the snow covered slopes of Breckenridge, Vail and even Leadville – mountains as far as the eye could see- I felt ridiculously small and insignificant. Just a dot on the landscape, moving not that fast. With nothing between me and the elements except some armored Cordura, a helmet and a pair of Levis, I’ve never felt so exposed. And without the ‘safety’ of a car for protection you can’t help me have moments when you think ‘holy shit, it’s all on me’. I can’t hide from the hail or the cold, and only I am going to get me home. As the temps dropped to the 50s and I got caught in a hailstorm, as the winds gusted up and I got bounced around over Kenosha pass (10,000 ft).. I certainly felt a very long way from anywhere and very very insignificant. Its not bad to feel overwhelmed, and I think it made coming home to my small apartment, my enormous sofa and a very hot shower so very much appreciated. But wow.. once you get out there.. the world is pretty damn big and on a bike, it feels so much bigger. Its easy to forget in the safety and relative security of your apartment, hanging out with friends or walking down the street but you don’t actually matter in the big scheme of things. You’re just a tiny part of a much bigger scene. And its good to remember awe. It keeps ‘you’ in perspective.
Life Lesson: Ego doesn’t help you when things get hard. Pack a thermal and hunker down.
So there you have it. 265 miles of grins, clenched teeth, ‘wow’s and ‘holy shit’s. Riding a bike is scary, dangerous and might sometimes seem kind of pointless. But its never boring and sometimes, just sometimes, it can blow you away.