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.