Welcome racers and vampires

Trip Start Aug 04, 2008
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Flag of United States  , Washington
Sunday, August 17, 2008

I set out to explore the Olympic Peninsula, going around it counter-clockwise. The weather was cloudy and cool. Ride was pleasant but uneventful until I got to Route 112, which goes out to a spot called Cape Flattery. The road looked nice on the map, so I went for it.

This road was more than nice. It was the most fun riding road I had encountered yet. Part of this was due to my lighted load, and the 2 new tires - both of which made a huge difference - but the road itself was awesome. The corners were all 2nd and 3rd gear, so 30-50mph, very smooth, clean asphalt, through the woods. Riding through the woods makes me feel at home. I don't mind blind corners, an a lot of ways they're easier than seeing them 100 yards off. So this road was a communing experience between myself and the bike, every corner was quick and smooth, 2 elements working together in a perfect combination of preparation and improvisation. It's just like a good skiing run, or more broadly doing anything recreational that you love, when you're 'in the zone': you just never want it to end.

So given my interest in Buddhism, people have asked me wether I've read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I did read it years ago, and I was deeply disappointed. As the author freely admits, it has very little to do with either Zen or motorcycles. So I guess others, who are not so easily duped by the frigging titles of things, might enjoy it.

It's especially unfortunate though because there does seem to be something that could be said (or written) about these 2 topics. Not more or less so than about Zen and other sports or activities, or just breathing for that matter, but this happens to be my vantage point, so I'll pursue it here for a bit (page on if you're not interested).

Motorcycling has been very rewarding for me over the last 25(!) years. It's a complex activity that is both physically and mentally challenging, and can never be perfected. Let me give you a couple of examples, though brevity and stream-of-consciousness will hopefully keep my verbosity in check. Let me take you through one corner, and I think you'll see how life is actually just one long, winding road (sorry Paul).

So you see a right-hand corner, and you'd like to get though it. What happens? The first thing good riders think about that drivers don't is their 'line'. Where do you want to be in the lane - on the inside or the outside, or in the middle? You should stay on the side of the lane away from the corner, so you can see as far into it as possible before turning. Once a bike is in a turn, it's not so easy to change its trajectory, so you want to get it right. When you do turn in, you aim for the inside of the corner. The trickiest type of corner is the one that gets tighter halfway through. By waiting to commit to the turn and then aiming for the inside, you make this scenario less likely, and less challenging if it does happen. (This is a called 'late apex' line.)

But it still happens, and suddenly you find yourself watching the outside edge of the corner getting closer and closer. You hold on to the handlebar with a white knuckle grip, but this doesn't seem to help. Oshit. The moment of truth. Begining riders will freeze, stare at the guardrail approaching them, and usually not even brake - and off the road they go.

As in initiating a turn, counter-intuition comes to the rescue. You need to look away from what scares you, and back into the corner to where you want to go, put more pressure on the inside hand, don't brake for God's sake, (it can make you lose traction or widen your turn) and if anything roll on the throttle. And you're through! Now get yourself a clean pair of skivvies and we'll be back on our way.

Wait to commit. Turn in purposefully. Think about where you want to go, and stick to it. And above all, don't panic, and don't freeze - stay in the game.

By the way, none of that had anything to do with Buddhism.

So there I was, looking, committing, adjusting, and of course gassing it (remember Rule 1), all the way out to Flattery Point, a good 30 miles of riding bliss. The point is on the Makah Indian reservation, and it turned out to be beautiful - a 1/2 mile trail took you to it. It also turned out to be the most northwest point in the lower 48. Check out the pics.

Then it was off to my first hostel stay, about 20 miles south of Forks, WA. Forks is the most sun-deprived place in the US. It gets over 130 inches of rain per year, compared to NYC's 40 or so. Riding through Forks, I saw a sign that said, 'Welcome Racers and Vampires." The first part referred to was due to several car races on the local track that weekend. The second, I learned, referred to Forks being recently immortalized by Stephanie Meyer in series to teen vampire novels - because of its lack of sun (The name of the book is Twilight, and there are 2 sequels to date).

The hostel was a not-so-clean place run by a really nice guy named Jim. Jim was born in Flatbush, Brooklyn, but he's been an outdoorsman for most of his life - he especially like to fish. He's in his 60's but looks 10 years younger, though a bit disheveled, and not heavy overall but with a gut and at least somewhat out of shape. But it seems that these days he's a bit down on things, mostly the state of the planet. He said that he had a family from Chinese Mongolia stay at the hostel a few months back, and was so impressed by their kindness, openness and compassion. He said to me, "They didn't speak much. But when they were leaving, the father said to me, 'Jim, you worry too much. You spend too much time on the computer. You should go outside more.' He just said it in such a thoughtful and matter-of-fact way that it really stuck with me." Such simple words, but they moved him.

I asked Jim if he still fished, and he said "Not so much. Things have changed." But Jim seems to have found a community among the Indian tribes of the Olymic Peninsula. He proudly played us a DVD of a gathering of tribes that he had attended, which he had just received from a friend. Unfortunately I think you you had to be there, so I headed off to my bunk.
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