I turn fifty in a few months and the nature of aging occupies my mind. The increasing worry is that I’ve done everything I’m going to do of note and the rest is just living in those memories, but I’m not happy with that diagnosis. The way of things seems to be that as people get older they become increasingly cautious, especially physically, until they are maintaining themselves to death. If all I have left is a continuous receding of activity into a safety cocoon designed to keep me alive as long as possible, I’m bereft of hope. If that’s the trajectory I need to do something about it because it’s causing me a great deal of anxiety.
This isn’t so much about thrill seeking as it is about finding meaningful ways to challenge myself. I’m not looking for overt or pointless risk, I’m looking for ways to engage and challenge myself physically and mentally. Motorcycling, for me, is a lifeline to that realm of vital engagement – it can turn even a simple commute into an adventure. To accept the challenge of motorcycling well you need to acknowledge the risks and manage them effectively. You can’t do it with one hand on the wheel and your thoughts elsewhere as so many other road users do; motorcycling well demands that you live in the moment.
The meditative nature of riding can’t be overstated, especially in my case. It’s taken me most of my life and my son’s diagnosis to realize I don’t think like most people. Whereas others find great traction and joy in social interaction, I’ve always found it confusing and frustrating. People are takers who are happy to demand my time, attention and expertise and offer little tangible in return. I spend my days in this social deficit where many around me seem intent on using me for what I can do for them but are unwilling to offer anything in return. The only currency many of them trade in is this slippery social currency, which I find difficult to fathom and so avoid. Given the opportunity, most people disappoint, and often do it with and edge of cruelty and selfishness that I find exhausting. Nothing lets me find balance again better than a few hours in the silence of the wind getting lost in the physical and mental challenge of chasing bends on my motorbike; the machine is honest in a way that few people are.
I started riding a motorcycle just over five years ago, after my mother died. It was a secret as to why motorcycles were forbidden in our family. A death no one talked about produced a moratorium on riding that prevented me from finding my way to this meditative state for decades. I didn’t realize that the motorbiking gene was strong in my family until I bypassed my mother’s fear and found my way back to that family history. Riding is something we’ve done for generations, but a single accident produced fear that kept me from what should have been a lifelong passion. Wondering about what could have been is another one of those traps that people fall into as they get older, but rather than wonder about it I’d prefer to make up for lost time.
There are many aspects of motorcycling that I’d like to try, from exploring the limits of riding dynamics on a track to long distance and adventure travel journeys, or even retracing family history. Last year I did some off road training and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a photo of me looking happier. Doing something new and challenging with a motorbike is where I find the edge. It’s also where I find the head-space that eludes me in my very socially orientated professional life.
Unfortunately, I live in the wrong country for exploring the challenges of motorbiking. Whereas in the UK you can find cheap and accessible trackdays for bikes all over the country, in Canada they simply don’t exist. My only option is to pony up for a thousand dollar course that puts me on a tiny, underpowered bike for one weekend. In the UK you can green lane and trail ride all over the country, but in Canada that’s called trespassing. We also happen to have some of the highest motorcycle insurance rates on the planet and one of the shortest riding seasons. In the UK you can ride virtually the whole year around and the range of biking interests are wide and varied. In Canada riders are thin on the ground and often interested in aspects of riding that I find baffling.
As I’m getting older I hope I can continue to find ways back to the meditative calm of riding. It isn’t an end in itself, but it sure works as a tool to help me manage my other responsibilities, and as fodder for writing and photography I haven’t found much better. Motorcycling lets me plumb Peisig’s depths and clarifies my mind. Along with that meditative silence, motorcycling also offers a direct line to a thrilling and challenging craft that demands and rewards my best efforts. Even the most mundane of riding opportunities offers a chance to find that edge, and it’s on that edge that I’m able to find my best self, the one I want to hone and improve. Being able to bring that refined self back into the world doesn’t just help me, but everyone that has to put up with me too.