Tag Archive: perception

Night Rides

The article “Night Rides” by Bud Miller was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 07/08/2012.

There’s a whisper on the night-wind, there’s a star agleam to guide us, And the Wild is calling, calling . . . let us go”. – from the poem The Call Of The Wild by Robert W. Service

I remember my first night ride. It was late summer just a few weeks after I started riding. My brother said we should take a ride over to a cousin’s house at the foot of the Blue Mountains near Point Phillips, Pa. At the time you weren’t legally allowed to ride after dark with only a permit, which I mentioned to Dave. Once he got done laughing, we mounted up and headed off.

Night time traffic in Point Phillips was non-existent so we had the roads all to ourselves. I rode alone; Dave rode with his wife Michelle. I remember the soft glow of the headlight and the growl of my ’81 Yamaha Maxim (with missing air box). I knew the roads like the back of my hand since we had grown up riding our bicycles on them; but I was really inexperienced. I knew nothing about counter steering or just how much front brake I should be using, and nothing about the propensity for Pennsylvania whitetail deer to suddenly come flying out the woods without notice. I just rode along, ignorant of all those things, soaking in the feelings of the new, otherworldly experience.

There’s nothing quite like riding at night when there are no other vehicles around. I’m not sure how to describe it exactly. You ride along in a bubble of light, your normal field of vision narrowed to a distance of maybe a hundred feet in front of you, you don’t get to preview the road ahead and have to respond to it as it unfolds just beyond your headlights. I’ve always loved the contrast of bright light and perfect black and riding under the stars you can feel, at once, totally insignificant and like the center of the universe. As Irish writer Edward Plunkett put it “a man is a very small thing, and the night is very large and full of wonders“.

Commuting year round means for a few months of the year I’ll be riding home in the dark. Many times when I’m headed for home after work in the dark and I hit the last ten miles of my ride, I’m reminded of that first night ride with my brother and his wife all those years ago. It’s funny to think back and realize everything I hadn’t yet learned. Still, it’s been something like 13 years and even though I’m now somewhat experienced, riding at night still feels like much the same as it did that very first time.

Ride safe.

Self Reliance

The article “Self Reliance” by Bud Miller was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 06/20/2012.

I’m holed up in a Dunkin Donuts sipping coffee; I got caught in a sudden downpour on my way home after a long day. It looks like it’ll pass and I can be on my way, but it’s got me thinking about how much we, as riders, need to be prepared for any eventuality. Sometimes that just means reacting on the road to a situation that develops in front of us; sometimes it means pulling off, staying dry, and waiting it out.

I remember an old NFL film where the coach is addressing his players and he says “you can get it done, you know what else? You gotta get it done”. When something breaks, you fix it. Problems come up; you solve them. Get lost, you find your way back. When you’re riding there’s no one to do it for you. You do it, or it doesn’t get done, it’s that simple. I carry zip ties, duct tape, tools, rain-gear, a patch kit, fuses, a flashlight, and a spare book just in case. You never know what you’ll have to deal with.

Doesn’t that just carry over perfectly to modern life? It reminds me of one of my favorite movie lines from A Christmas Story: “Oh, life is like that. Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at its zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us“. You have to be prepared for change. It’s true of motorcycles and life, you have to adapt, overcome, accept, fix, heal, and keep moving on your journey. Riding motorcycles has made me better at all those things, and I think motorcyclists are particularly adept at rolling with the changes life can throw at us.

Before I started riding and doing my own maintenance I wouldn’t have said I was particularly mechanically handy (ask my brother if you don’t believe me); but riding has made me mechanically proficient and that carries over to many things outside of riding. When you ride every day you have to learn to fend for yourself. You have to adapt, have to plan ahead, have to overcome, so you do, and you ride on.

If we can dance on the pegs of a 500-pound machine in traffic, what can’t we do? Riding is confidence building and nurtures the independent, self-reliant part of everyone who rides. Every ride is a chance to learn something more about our machines, our skills, and how to handle new situations. Proficiency on a motorcycle is earned over time.

Well, the rain’s stopping, coffee’s gone, time to hit the road and deal with whatever comes up next.

The Lotus

The article “The Lotus” by Bud Miller was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 06/27/2012.

I’ve always admired the symbolism of the Lotus flower in many of the world’s religions. The Lotus grows in ponds, its strong roots unseen in the mud below, and blooms clean above the water. Symbolically the mud represents materialism, the water experience, and blooming above the water enlightenment. I like the symbolism so much I have Lotus tattoos on each of my Achilles tendons, each surrounding a yin-yang symbol.

I was thinking about it the other day on a ride. The symbolism of the Lotus has a parallel in motorcycling. All of us start in the mud of inexperience, knowing nothing of the controls or intricacies of riding. We consciously remind ourselves what each hand and foot is supposed to be doing while we try to balance the machine. We have to think about how much front and rear brake to use and when, how fast to go, what gear to be in, when to downshift or up-shift, and a thousand other details.

We progress up from the mud of inexperience, building a foundation of skills, through the waters of experience, encountering a myriad of situations, road and weather conditions along the way. We learn what to wear and what kind of motorcycle best suits our needs and personality. The physical aspects of riding start to become second nature. We can tell from the sound and feel of the engine which gear it’s in. We start to feel more comfortable accelerating through turns and riding starts to feel natural, as natural as walking.

Finally, we achieve a kind of enlightenment, a place where we are in the zone, where without conscious thought and with a deft application of throttle, brake, and balance we can control a machine, that once felt heavy, so precisely that it feels as light as a feather. We can put the motorcycle exactly where we intend it to be, and ride as smoothly as if we had always done it. Once enlightened we let it take us places beyond the roads we travel, “…gladly beyond any experience…” as the line goes from my favorite poem.

The Lotus is able to stand strong and tall in the water because of the strength of its roots. Its pristine appearance belies the fact that it had to come through the mud in order to bloom where it stands. Similarly, an experienced motorcyclist gives the impression that he or she has always known how to ride, that it comes naturally; but, just like the bloom of the Lotus, effective riding is the result of building a strong foundation, persevering though the waters of experience, and progressing towards enlightenment.

Ride safe.

Living In The Moment

The article “Living In The Moment” by Bud Miller was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 05/09/2012.

Personally, one of the best things about motorcycling is that it necessitates living in the moment. No past or present; only now matters. It’s a Zen concept but one that certainly applies to riding. It’s a time to recharge your batteries and go places deep within yourself that are better reached without words, places we can get to only through introspection, that are diminished when they’re spoken into being.

Quite often when I get back from a ride, I can’t recall what it was I thought about while I rode. Rather than emptying the mind, which is the goal of traditional meditation, I find I tap into that part of me that doesn’t get accessed often enough. Once a rider has ridden enough and the movements become second nature, the body goes on autopilot and the mind is free to take the lid off the dustbins of memory and emotions and go rooting around for a while, kicking the tires, seeing how far we’ve come and how far we’d like to go, who we’ve lost and who we hold dear, what’s worth hanging onto and what we should let go of.

How often in everyday life do you stop and admire a sunrise or sunset? On the bike I take every chance I get. At times on my morning commute, I’ve looked around me at the people in cars who looked anxious and tense, and then I’ve looked up at a particular cloud formation set against the endless blue of the sky and wondered, “Do they not see this?” I’ve even tried to point it out on occasion, only to be stared at in utter bewilderment.

Motorcycling tends to put a fine point on all the things in life that are already good and make them great, at times even spectacular: sunrise, sunset, cool air over hot, moist skin, music, the sun on your face, love, morning coffee, post-ride beer, memories of loved ones, the smell of leather and freshly cut grass, even the simple joy of movement through nature. It allows us to be children again: blissfully ignorant of all that might try to stop us from being everything we are capable of being.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel said: “Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.” So much of modern life is planning for other things, and there’s often little room for the kind of passion riding evokes. But on the bike there’s room for little else. It’s a challenge trying to string together the words that match the feelings, but it’s one I enjoy trying to meet. Riding demands you live in the moment; when you get right down to it, that’s all that matters.

Ride safe.

The Smidsy

I’ve seen this video a few places now and thinks it’s something every rider should see so I’m re-posting it here. It’s the pilot of a series of videos on accident avoidance from the rider’s perspective. This one deals with a driver pulling out in front of a motorcycle he failed to see and how we, as riders, can be sure we are seen.

Ride safe.

When It All Clicks

The article “When It All Clicks” by Bud Miller was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 04/15/2012.

I sometimes listen to music when I ride alone. Everything and anything from the classic rock I grew up with (AC-DC, Boston, Thin Lizzy, Van Morrison) to contemporary artists like Blue October, Amos Lee and Band of Horses. Bach and Yo-Yo Ma are sprinkled through my playlist too.

Every once in a while I hit a point in a ride when a certain song gets its turn just as I reach a particular stretch of road at a certain time of day under the right conditions, and it all clicks. A flawless moment grabs me and the world ceases to be anything beyond my senses, and I’m where I should be at that moment.

This morning I left for work on a typical Wednesday. The temperature was in the low 50s, and it was cloudy and damp. I hit a part of my commute where a profusion of lilac had begun an early bloom. As I rode with my shield up, Bijou by Queen started playing in my helmet. The song was featured in an IMAX film called The Alps that I saw a few years back. The film was about climber John Harlin III who was planning to climb a route on the north face of the Eiger, the same route that claimed the life of his father some 40 years earlier. Bijou is a soaring display of Brian May’s guitar playing and every time I hear it I get chills.

As I rode along, the temperature was cool enough to wake the senses and the air thick enough to hold the fragrance of lilac, freshly cut grass, and all the other sweet smells of spring in the palm of its hand. May hit his solo and with the steady, smooth hum of the V-Strom’s V-twin beneath me, I do believe I got lost for a while in the sheer bliss of sensory overload.

When I hit those points, the best thing about it is realizing it while it’s happening. I used to get the same feeling running or occasionally hiking or climbing. The feeling that you are one with the activity, that you’re getting it right, you’re in the groove, completely focused and yet lost in a daydream of motion and memory, scent, sight and sound.

The greatest rides are the ones where the problems and static and noise of everyday life are either behind you or in front of you – you’re on a different plane and there’s no space for the cacophony of a harsh world.

Few things take you to those places; but music, motorcycles, and of course, love can. I have those rides a lot; it’s probably what keeps me coming back for more.

Ride safe.

To Feel Strong

The article “To Feel Strong” by Bud Miller was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 03/28/2012.

I am a huge fan of mountain climber and author Jon Krakauer. He is the author of Eiger Dreams, Into the Wild and Into Thin Air (the thrilling first hand account of the Everest tragedy of 1996). Into the Wild, which he wrote in 1996, was made into a film in 2007, and has one of my favorite movie lines: “it’s not always necessary to be strong, but to feel strong”.

I love the line because it perfectly describes the feeling of both climbing and motorcycling. In fact, it describes any physical and mental pursuit that expands the individual in some way. When we ride, we’re using all of our senses while balancing and controlling six-hundred to eight-hundred or more pounds of man and machine that is bound to earth on a mere two square inches or so of rubber. Not only that, but we have to control it while we navigate traffic, road and weather conditions, and share the road with other vehicles that outweigh us by three-thousand pounds at the same time.

Motorcycling is a balancing act that demands deftness of touch, courage, dexterity, focus and nerve that most people would rather make excuses to avoid. I have heard more people tell me why they don’t ride than I have heard people tell me why they do. Maybe it’s just difficult to convey our love for riding to people who find it so unfathomable. Part of the attraction, for me at least, is the challenge: I must get it right – there is no alternative. You simply have to be strong.

Twisting the throttle breathes life into a very powerful machine and that strength flows through us as we ride. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “We acquire the strength we have overcome,” mastery over a machine gives us the strength of that machine. It is a tremendous source of power and much like climbing, puts the fate of the individual completely in his or her own hands. Riding demands bravery, courage, resolve and strength; if only over the small spark of fear that can occasionally creep into our minds.

I have a little ritual I do on the last stretch of my commute where I stand on the pegs, take in some fresh air and sort of celebrate a successful ride and the strength I feel. I believe that’s what Krakauer was getting at. It is not always necessary to be strong, but to feel strong.

Ride safe.