Monday, April 17, 2006

Music and Riding

Music and Riding -- Notes from my first spring ride of 2006

The things I think about during a day of riding often determine where I will ride next. If the day has no crucial destination, sometimes an interesting road will prompt an impromptu adventure. Other times, I will spot a community or bit of scenery that will become a destination for a future ride.

It is also the case that riding gives me some distance from my every-day life. With a different perspective, I sometimes see new approaches to a current challenge or I may realize something I’ve been overlooking. Maybe there is somebody I’ve not talked to for a while, and it will occur to me that I need to get back in touch. How much does riding influence what happens next in life? How much does the thinking I do while riding help me plan and execute your life off of the bike? How useful is it?

I pondered such questions as I rode down the Blue Ridge -- my first long ride of the 2006 riding season.

Let me say, here, that I'm learning to do more thinking about things other than riding during breaks in the riding. I find it important to plan longer breaks during the day; breaks that will let me jot a few notes, so that I don’t have to dwell on things so much as I ride. Traveling by myself, there is often time at the end of the day to review such notes, and as I read them memories from the ride come back and settle into focus. Pictures can serve a similar purpose. I find that this works better than trying to complete a whole line of thinking during the ride, it’s safer, but nevertheless, riding seems to stimulate creative thinking and review of my life and the world around me.

This day another thought occurred to me. How much of the opposite is true?
How much is the choice of a route a portrayal of ones interests? How much does it reveal the search to satisfy deeper personal needs? Maybe this choice of a pastime says more about us than we realize.

Either way, it puzzles me that I can get so much out of something so simple. It is not as if going for a ride in the country requires great courage, or study, or even a lot of preparation. The habit of riding has taught me to keep everything needed for a quick departure close at hand. I find that even the briefest rides give me encounters with nature that often yield pleasures very disproportionate to the small amount of effort it took me to get there. And even when nature is a bit rainy and miserable, the encounter can seem so healthful.

Don’t you find yourself feeling better about yourself and better adapted to life simply because you occasionally get out and see some of the nature's scenery?

At the end of my ride down the Blue Ridge, I was able to attend my nephew’s music recital. He has been studying voice performance art at Mars Hill College, near Ashville.

The recital was surprising to me, first, in that the whole 45 minutes was dedicated to just his performance. I was more accustomed to recitals organized by teachers with several students performing. Second, the quality and range of music that he had been studying was amazing. I found myself thinking about the role of music and how it often merges with motorcycle riding. I realized that in listening to good music, live, I was gaining something akin to my ride down the Blue Ridge. Something was different about a live performance from even the best recording, just as riding a motorcycle is different from the same view from a car… or in pictures.

I began to think about the ways we mix music with motorcycling.

Recently, I’ve noticed many riders with XM radio or connections for IPOD’s. This has been the source of some controversy. Some of those who I think of as more serious, higher-mileage riders, have point out such accessories obscure the real business of riding. I’ve not added my voice to that opinion as my own bike has AM, FM and weather band radio as well as a CD player. Yet, I have to agree that I’m more apt to ride down the road with the radio off so that it won’t distract me. Twice I’ve even purchased automobiles—a Volkswagon and a Jeep—that did not have radios. In those days, however, I had no need of traffic reports.

Regardless of one’s preference during the ride, group destinations frequently include something for our musical interests. The Finger Lakes Rally, always brings in a good band. Both years that I’ve been there, the bands played a variety of music that young and old riders alike found useful for dancing. One year, at the BMWBMW Oktoberfest, we had very good German music provided by other campers. Afterwards, I remember that we discussed how to carry musical instruments on motorcycles. I speculated about whether I could do much with a ukulele and was told about guitars that fold up. Someone else described a rider who use to commute with a tuba in a side-car.

This year, some in the club have put together informal rides performances of another member, Chiba's, rock band, locally and in distant states. And I realize that I just finished reading a book written by another motorcycle-riding rock musician: Neal Peart. This theme keeps reoccurring with variations!

On the BMWBMW web site, you might search on Bluegrass and if you do you will find a link to and the 2006 Blue Grass Motorcycle Camp Night. Bluegrass? My friend Chris Zink rides a new R1200RT and plays banjo. Near her home is the Friendly Inn that features Sunday afternoon jam sessions for customers who bring in their acoustic instruments and play a variety of folk music. How did I discover the Friendly Inn? Another BMW rider I bumped into at Daniel’s biker bar once took me on a back-roads ride that ended there. When I commented how much the music made me want to play, the bartender produced a good guitar that was already in tune and loaned it to me for the next hour or so.

What is it with music and riding?

No doubt, I turn my bike towards the country because I feel the need to connect with nature, and because I find immersing in nature healing. I know that it is very good for my mental health. By connecting with what is good in the world—good apart from humans crafts—perhaps, if I keep doing it long enough and frequently enough, I will come to recognize better what is good and natural in me and in others, and be able to draw it out better. I cannot just ride forever, however. There is a point where I feel the need to reconnect with human company and to see others in the light of what I have gained in my journeys. Perhaps this is one of the pleasures of riding with others: rejoining is built into the plan. We must wait only for the next meal or gas stop. And when we meet it is with others who have had their own experience of nature.

Is there some unrecognized benefit in sharing the same symphony of nature as we ride together? Certainly, it is a bonding experience as we see, hear, and smell wonderful things that will never be exactly the same for those who will follow after us, or travel to other places. For a brief time we share a few of the same perfect moments in the middle of eternal time and space.

Music may be the simplest and yet one of the best ways for humans to respond to such beauty as the world provides us. Rhythms and melodies engage us regardless of the languages we speak. When we participate in creating music or sharing music we escape the bounds of gravity that hold us to the demands of the world, what we create and discover adds to what we knew previously allowing us to exceed the previous limits of our own knowledge and understanding. When music is at its best, we begin to resonate with the world and with others in ways we cannot quite predict ahead of time, and generally cannot well describe afterward.

So, let me suggest to you, as a worthy destination, some of the free recitals that college music students provide, typically around the time of Spring Break, and at the beginning of our riding season.

But let me carry this thought a few steps further, if I may.

What is it with riding that serves us so well? A college professor riding companion, Chris Zink, says that riding forces us back to reality. One must pay attention to the here-and-now in order to safely conduct the bike down the road. It takes the mind away from other preoccupations. Indeed, music serves a similar purpose. One must listen in the here-and-now to hear it, and it draws us away from other thoughts.
My own belief is that when we take our conscious minds off of our problems our subconscious minds will go to work on them less constrained by our prejudices and superstitions, often yielding solutions and insights that will await us when we return to our problems. So, by paying more attention to riding, as with music, I may find that I get more and more out of it.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Ride down the Blue Ridge Parkway

I rode down the Blue Ridge Parkway to see my Nephew David perform a voice recital at Mars Hill College, near Asheville, NC.

A first stop was at Mountain Cove Winery. This is a place where I've often thought we might arrange a weekend arrival & camp out.

This picture tells me to lose weight... or zip up my jacket!

There is just a little bit of snow still left in the shade to the left of this road. For miles I saw no other vehicles. Was this the first day that it was open? Only near the end, in North Carolina, did I see a patrol vehicle. The rest of the time, it was like having my own race track. In places where it ran on the tops of the mountain, with clouds beneath on either side, it seemed like a highway in the sky.