Monday, August 31, 2009

Riding a motorcycle the right (less wrong?) way - Part one

This will be a multipart story

So I've been riding motorcycles in one way or another since I was about thirteen. I really do have a great time, and once in a while I convince myself that I'm getting to be pretty good at it. That's about the time I learn some small piece of information that again convinces me that I've got it all wrong.

The most recent revelation of my two-wheeled ineptitude came as such things frequently do, in the midst of a conversation with someone that I reluctantly acknowledge is better at this than I am. I've chased Joe on one motorcycle or another for about six years now. We started on 250cc two stroke dirtbikes, moved on to streetbikes, and eventually made our way to an asphalt racetrack. Early on, things looked good for me. I was able to jump out front and hang on just well enough to make my ego feel pretty good. Joe was somewhere behind me, making and crossing off mental checklists. I was having the time of my life, too much adrenaline flowing to think of anything other than getting in front of the next bike. Fast forward a couple years and Joe is routinely whooping up on me and my attempts to keep up are resulting in more and more personal safety equipment tests.

Riding gear is expensive, and after you've walked away from a few crashes, some nastier than others, you kinda start to think that maybe continuing to play these odds isn't such a great idea. So I swallowed whatever pride I still hung onto and had a talk (actually several, I'm sure, but for the sake of the story we'll pretend that I only need to be told such things once instead of dozens of times) with my friend.

It turns out that at similar lap times, we're having significantly different experiences inside our respective helmets. Once I get within 1.5 seconds of my personal best lap time at the track, things are pretty intense. It's best characterized as the kind of effort that superheroes are portrayed to be exerting when doing things like reversing the spin of the earth. Complete tunnel vision, no coherent thoughts to speak of, just an unbridled push to go harder, faster, NOW! At the same lap time, Joe is crossing items off his mental checklist. He has markers for everything, little variations in surface color mark braking, turn in, apex, throttle on, and shift points for every corner on the track. He's knows if he's on a fast lap based on where in relation to some mark he ends up going for an upshift. While I've been white-knuckling around this place for the last 3 years, he's been studying every inch of the racing line. Joe's speed is smooth and relatively effortless compared with the frenetic display of ever leaning horizon that my brain attempts to consume while navigating my approximation of a racing line.

This isn't the first time that I've witnessed him carefully select a curriculum for himself and through disciplined study and execution march towards an enviable level of proficiency (he's pretty damned good with a guitar too) and it probably won't be the last. So I decided to go back to kindergarten and try to do it right this time. After much discussion (we're playing down how much, remember?) and a bit of thought I decided that the important thing that Joe's method gives him that mine doesn't is calm. He has all of his markers by virtue of leaving himself sufficient brain cycles to acquire them. The plan was simple, remain calm.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Is this thing on?

Been more than a year. I guess I'm not much of a blogger. Things are pretty different this year. I work for a different company with a very different culture (I'm not sure I'm compatible, but options are somewhat limited these days, no?) I've added an aquarium to post pictures of and may even do that in the future. I returned to Jennings GP last month after a long break, maybe I'll write some about that trip too as it was rather interesting (to me anyway).

Last couple of weekends with Christy and the kids have been pretty cool. Two Saturdays ago, I took them all to a motocross racing school at Dade City MX track. It was a bit of a rough start but once loosened up everyone did really well. I was especially impressed with the improvement in Christy's form on the bike. Cailan showed some real bravery in riding the MX track, she didn't want to at first, but I talked her into trying it for one lap, after which she could park her bike under a tree if she didn't like it. She did three laps before pulling in with a big grin on her face. Colin was very ambitious and ended up somewhat disappointed that he didn't do any jumping. I was very proud of what he accomplished while there. We look forward to heading back after the weather cools down a bit.

Speaking of cooling down, on Christy's suggestion we took them ice skating at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon last Sunday. Again the kids showed impressive form after overcoming a bit of initial wobbliness. Cailan was up for everything and when the time came went straight for the limbo line. She knocked the stick down on her first try. I cleared it, but then immediately wiped out aggravating an old shoulder injury. When they got tired or had a particularly rough fall, the kids would park in the penalty box for a few minutes until they were ready for more. During one of their breaks I saw Christy and chased her down. Right as I caught up to her she did a belly flop directly in front of me, as I dodged, swerved and jumped, her skate caught my shin a bit. She got some bruises I got a cut, we all laughed.

Overall things are better for me than they are for a lot of people. There's a lot of uncertainty and concern, particularly over financial matters, in our country these days. I don't have a lot of faith in the things that our country's leadership is doing in the name of trying to make things better. Generally speaking, it seems that trying to spend your way out of a debt problem is not just likely to fail, but destined to make things a whole lot worse before it does. I'm always cautious of people that claim something must be done right away, in my experience those people are trying to get something established before some other piece of information is discovered. That seems to be happening more often than not in government lately. It feels like we move from one hotspot to the next in these weekly news cycles where something will be talked up with much fuss made about it in advance of a decision to spend a ridiculous amount of money we don't really have on it. Then it's off to the next hot topic. When the week of frenzy is unsuccessful in gaining the necessary support for massive spending, then it is put back in the queue for another attempt in a couple of weeks. Those who are thoughful and outspoken are drowned out by the loud and vitriolic partisan arguments, until they've just grown too weary to try being heard anymore. The machine is running amok, and I'm increasingly of the opinion that the best course of action for the time being is to ignore it as much as possible, be available and good to your people (family, friends, etc.). After all, they only have power because a large enough group of people believe they do.

Hrm, this ended up going all over the place. Oh well.