Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Mental Fitness

Part of the preparation process for riding that the Motorcycle Safety Foundation curiculum teaches is asking the question as to whether one is mentally ready. Generally this means to make sure that we are clear-headed and not mentally preoccupied; free of the influence of drugs as well.

When I consider this point, sometimes I don't know whether I "should" be motorcycling, even as much as I enjoy it. I am getting older and accidents matter more. Even a non-fatal accident has the potential not only to reduce ones lifestyle, but shorten ones life. With every accident I question more whether I am as mentally capable as I should be. The importance of long distance, high mileage riders to me is that they generally serve as good models for what a more successful attitude and philosophy toward motorcycling might be.

The biggest benefit, for me, of motorcycling is that it gets me out into nature, and it does so faster and better than other forms of transportation. One can stumble around the question of quantity versus quality until one is sick of it: How do you want to balance between quantity of years and quality of years? ...quantity of miles or quality of miles?

I've clipped a posting from a "CityCamping" newsgroup on Yahoo (below or on my blog, if you're reading this in print) that sums up some of what I set my own internal compass to. It describes the kind of lifestyle that someone, like myself, who grew up in Wyoming and Idaho may come to honor and desire even though the cares of life lead East and into the city. Clearly, one does not require a motorcycle to get close to nature. There are pets, parks, trains, and even hiking trails in the city or your easy chair can suffice. Still, I think the motorcycle gets me to nature faster and better than other forms of transportation.

I'll bet I say that again.

The problem I often grapple with is the fact that I come to nature for time to contemplate. Doing so on a motorcycle is not always safe. One must watch the road.

How often have you caught yourself thinking about something other than your riding, told yourself to pay attention, then almost immediately have something arise that required your attention to see and avoid?

It seems to me a paradox of adventure riders. I envy them because I know how much I have enjoyed the long rides that I have taken. Yet, I recognize that those who do it successfully over the years must be much more safety minded than I am. How often they must make good decisions, deciding correctly, when alone in some remote place, in order to survive to tell us their tales. I do not therefore envy them the necessary trade offs between enjoying the ride and attending to the business of the ride for such long periods of time. Howbeit, it may simply be that one must allow oneself to stop with some frequency to enjoy the view.

And so I see that as I grow as a motorcycle rider, I must mature further, mentally.

That sucks.

At 53, with 39 years of riding behind me, I was of the illusion that I had arrived at that point, already. The discovery of this notion prompted me to ask whether I am really cut out for motorcycling. I mean, if I've been doing it this long and still don't do it well enough to avoid stupid accidents, maybe I should not be in the business?

Last May, an aggressive driver rear-ended me. The damage was bad enough that I should have had the bike towed to the dealer and ridden to the hospital in an ambulance. My reflex, however, is to be optimistic. Moreover, I believe in the magic of "speaking what I want." I do not talk of flat tires in remote places. I enjoy the scenery and look forward to the next stop for rest.

"I will be fine," I kept saying.

As I rode off, not realizing that the rear tire was flat, the thought that came to me immediately was whether the accident was a sign from heaven telling me to stop riding motorcycles. The answer that quickly followed focused upon the value of my own life being largely dependent upon how much it contributes to the world around me and the lives of others. The sharing of what I learn in motorcycling, and the effort to guide others toward safe riding is probably one of the more valuable things I can do with my life.

Yet, I have so much more to learn about that topic, myself. At times the job of learning seems so daunting, as my own capacity for stubbornness and foolish stupidity constantly surprise me.

What are the keys to thinking the right thoughts?

Rider safety programs teach a variety of acronyms for the jobs of Scanning, Analyzing what you see, Planning possible escape and survival tactics, and Execution of the plan when it becomes necessary. I know riders who say they barely see the scenery as they are so focused upon this mental drill. I'll admit that I have been aghast at such declarations. Now, I realize that more of such a basic discipline will improve my own riding. Can I do it better? When I think about it, I know it is not difficult. Long ago I learned that such vigilance can become a habit and adherance to vigilance can become second nature.

As a battle stations helmsman on a nuclear submarine, I was taught to routinely scan gauges and instruments without fixating on any one, and to take correct actions. Of course, I had a Diving Officer sitting behind me making sure that I did not miss anything. Nevertheless, I know that I can be competent in such work, and that most any other person can acquire such competence as well. That means that I can become a better and safer rider, but I may have to dispense the notion that miles in the saddle make this automatic.

That said, I also need to remind myself to turn off inner dialogs that distract me from thoughts about the road and the ride, just as I have learned to distrust people who distract themselves with cell phones, I need to distrust thinking that is not about the ride. Perhaps the time for communing with nature is when the bike is stopped.

Come to think of it, I am a happier rider when I am stopping frequently to take pictures, and when I have no schedule to discourage me from taking my time. It also dawns on me that some of the more experienced riders in the BMWBMW club have been running contests that encourage us to take photographs during our riding. That may be a reflection of an attitude that has helped to keep them riding for so long.

Hmmm... Stop, take a photograph, admire the view.

If I'm not distracted by the chores of riding I may appreciate more what I see if I can dwell on the scenery while at a stop. Instead of thinking as I ride, why not stop and use the notebook in my tank bag to jot down thoughts? The times that I have taken notes or photos, have proven useful. I am sometimes later amazed how a photograph or a few words in my notebook do bring those moments back... In this way I may have more fun while riding better and there will be time for contemplation in safety and comfort later.

Bush Living

Posted by: "sail4free" sail4free

Tue Feb 27, 2007 9:15 am (PST)

Forty years ago (during my formative years) I lived with my Grandpa
(just the two of us and one dog) for a spell up in the mountains of
northern Idaho. It wasn't uncommon to have 4' of snow on the ground
during those winters which seemed to run on forever. We lived miles
away from our closest neighbor and it was 16 miles to town. Somehow
we both survived the experience . . . an outcome neither of us could
have predicted at any point during our year and a half together.
Fiercely independent and stubborn to the core, I certainly met my
match -- and so did he. His nickname for me was "Hard Rock" -- no
doubt some insider commentary on the tenacity of my young spirit --
as if "Rock" wasn't quite enough . . . the descriptive had to
be "Hard" -- even as rocks go. [Sorta' like "stubborn ass" (do
mules come any other way?) which I've read is God's own analogy of
the nature of man.] On two or three occasions -- certainly no small
measure of our collective desperation -- we even resorted to fists.
I've never been a great fighter but I grew up scrapping in the
streets of Long Beach and San Pedro, CA so it's probably fair to
note I got a few licks in of my own . . . fortunately youth and
speed where on my side in those days.
Even with all the years of tempering since then, there remain a few
enduring quirks in my behavior which make life harder than (or at
least different from) what otherwise might have been. These include
my inclination to isolate and pursue solitude . . . that leaning I
always thought must be kinda' anti-social but, in fact, (as I've
just learned) is more accurately described as Asocial. Desiring the
company of others but not desperately NEEDING it as so many do, I've
been mostly content to be the "lone wolf" although I'm still
learning ways to enjoy my own company more. I've also had this
strident aversion to letting anyone help me do whatever it might be
that I'm perfectly capable of doing by myself. I don't regard their
offer of help as a threat, but I'm annoyed by it -- as if I'd like
to say "can't you SEE that I don't need any help right now?" OTOH,
I have tried to let others help me when it's something I can't
safely do alone . . . but more often, I spend way too much time
figuring out some way that I can do it alone . . . safely . . .
After reading Sharron's article below, I have a better understanding
of what happened . . . and when. Not that it was all bad; surely
that isn't true -- it was just different and that is all. (In
keeping with my oft-repeated slogan, "There's the way things should
be (or should have been) -- and there's the way things are.") My
favorite line in the whole piece is: "The wilderness, not the nation
that manages it, evokes their allegiance."
BUSH LIVING by Sharron Chatterton
[Intro by Cliff Jacobson -- included in his book "Camping's Top
Secrets -- a lexicon of camping tips only the experts
know"] "Sharron Chatterton is a retired wilderness canoe guide,
college instructor, and writer who lives a contemplative life in a
lakeside cabin near Teslin, Yukon, Canada. Here she explains how
the solitude and demands of bush living shape the personality of
those who live and work in wild places."
"The wilderness promotes traits that encourage survival. Surrounded
by the unpredictable and beyond rescue, wilderness travelers
safeguard unknown outcomes against disaster. Their goal is safe
arrival to their destination, not arrival by some time or date.
Some "great feats" are simply their cautious journeys."
"Wilderness makes an individual self-reliant -- able to function
alone, to perform all tasks independently, and to know the adaptive
capability of every tool. To the bush traveler, rescue is an urban
myth -- there are no buffers against irresponsibility! Wilderness
dwellers accept what is, not what was or ought to be. They plan
carefully and they don't take chances. Actions are purposeful;
tasks are always completed. To use energy on valueless projects or
to leave important work undone is unthinkable. There is too much to
do to get bored."
"Long periods spent in silence creates an ease without talk, value
for the understandings that flow without language, and a need for
silence. Silence conserves energy, frees ones attention for more
important work and, lacking confrontation, creates gentleness.
Simple wisdom breeds in silence."
"Wilderness travelers become hyperalert and observant. The land
exhibits what happened, is happening, and might happen next to the
ears, eyes, nose, and skin. These sensors function in overdrive,
constantly receiving information."
"Some believe that wilderness living breeds antisocial behavior. In
truth, the wilderness man or woman becomes asocial -- he or she has
a lingering love of society but little need for it. The wilderness,
not the nation that manages it, evokes their allegiance. This
alienation from political boundaries and reassociation with the
natural world defines the "wilderness heart."
"Survival is the hidden foundation of bush morality. It is what
allows one to kill animals to eat, blaze trees to mark a return
trail, or sidestep a slipper orchid. An experienced bush dweller
learns never to interfere with another. To pass without offering
help is a cardinal sin. To solicit help unnecessarily is another.
Survival encourages cordiality among neighbors -- you might have to
depend upon one for help."
"There are deeper effects of wilderness than those on human
personality: There is a growing need to reduce belongings, to hunt
and gather, and to be nomadic. Nature -- not other humans --
controls the routine. There is a growing intimacy with animals and
with death. Consciousness passes old barriers and metaphysical
experiences occur. Wilderness rearranges behavior, reconfigures
mental constructs, and transforms the inner self forever."
"Yet personality change is what we first perceive in committed
wilderness travelers. We see it in epic soloists, long-distance
trekkers, and in those who work in wild places -- guides,
researchers, and itinerant wanderers. In fact, all of us, even we
who paddle a simple slough alone or walk a dog along the bluffs --
even farmers, loggers, and deep sea fishermen whose wilderness
experiences we consistently deny -- have personalities deeply marked
by wilderness."

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Blake on Motorcycling

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in Eternity's sunrise.

– William Blake

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A Better Class of Customers?

I run a blog on technical stuff at It isn't much fun to read. Mostly, I just post technical information that I want to remember. The blog then provides me a place to point to in other writing that puts the information into better context. I can also point students to specific entries that pertain to courses I have taught.

On the metro ride to work, this morning, I was thinking about correlations between BMW motorcycles and Apple and Microsoft. Correlations in aspect of pricing. In BMW related magazines, readers frequently write in and point out the premium price we pay for BMW motorcycles. The price of using Microsoft products has not declined despite "open source" competition that increasingly provides comparable products for free. Apple, also, has been charging a premium for its products, surviving against the lower-priced PC industry's entry point.

How does this make sense, from a business standpoint? Well, I think of Warren Buffet, who Bill Gates cites as a mentor, and the price of Berkshire Hathaway stock. Mr. Buffet has declined to split his stock. The price of a single share, as I recall the last time I looked, was somewhere north of twenty-thousand dollars.

Splitting a stock doubles the number of shares each investor owns while cutting the price in half. It has the effect of making a stock more affordable, which stimulates trading.

Mr. Buffet has been quoted as saying that by not splitting his stock he assures himself of a higher quality of investor.

Perhaps BMW motorcycles thinks similarly about its buyers. People who can afford to pay more may be easier to support. They may also be less litigous when things do not go as hoped for.