Things, stuff, and other items of interest

March 11, 2010

Motorcycles, Geeky Euphoria, and Three legged chickens - Riding season has begun!

That's all the motorcycle is, a system of concepts worked out in steel.
Robert M. Pirsig, from: "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"

I am about to do what I had more or less promised I wouldn't. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I think writing about riding is an exercise in futility. There are some topics that simply don't lend themselves well to the written word. I'm not so arrogant to think that I can accomplish this task where giants who have walked before me have failed. The best I can do is try, pitifully, to give you some fleeting impression of what it's like for me.

Some of you know this, some of you don't. I write code for a living. That is to say that I think about, design, formulate and eventually write sets of computer instructions in a very precise manner. These instructions are structured in such a fashion that they (usually) cooperate with hundreds, thousands, possibly millions of other instructions to achieve a required goal. I have a friend that I was fortunate enough to work with briefly, who, if he were here right now would almost certainly interject with what I have come to think of as his catch phrase. While making his hands into the shapes of sock puppets (minus the socks) he would pantomime a conversation and declare in a loud, nasal voice:
"Nerd nerd nerd nerd nerd nerd nerd nerd nerd."
- GwaiLo
He's a subtle fellow, with a refined sense of humour not always appreciated for it's true genius. He has a great joke about a three legged chicken, that he tells magnificently. I won't ruin it by trying to match his delivery.

Talking, or writing as the case may be, about programming is almost as equally futile as writing about riding. Among other things, it's not going to do your social life any favours. Trust me on this one, I speak from experience. These two topics may not on the surface appear to have anything in common, but for me, given the right conditions and an ideal set of circumstances, they come very close to being one and the same. All while being wholly, completely, radically opposite.

I suspect, there are more among you that can relate to the idea of laying down a sweet piece of logic than cutting a perfect line through the apex of a tight corner. These two concepts are not so far apart from each other as you might think. Bare with me this will get a little geeky, but in a cool biker sort of way. Think of the Fonze with a pocket protector and taped glasses. On second thought, don't do that. That mental image doesn't work.

Things that programming and riding motorcycles have in common:

  • I had to go to school to learn how to do it properly
  • If you're bad at it, it's immediately obvious
  • You literally have to change the way you think in order to do it properly
  • It is almost entirely a mental exercise
  • Maintenance is required and never ending
  • Arrogance isn't tolerated for very long
  • If you go like a bat out of hell and ignore the details, the outcome is going to be painful and messy.
  • Persistent discipline is a prerequisite
  • It requires focus. Distractions = doom.
  • Chicks dig it.
Ok that last one may not be entirely true, but a man can dream can't he?

Athletes, day traders, chainsaw jugglers and door-to-door salesmen have often referred to a state of mind called "the zone". Being in "the zone" requires a rare state of mental focus that is excruciatingly brief. During one of these moments, one attains a zen-like state of equilibrium where performance is both effortless and flawless. Fleeting glimpses of time where the staggering intensity is matched only by the perception of each intricate detail, anticipated, recognized and accounted for instantaneously. Thought and action are paired in fluid synchronicity, where one can not exist with out the other.

I'm no athlete, I have all the business acumen of a moldy potato, I'm a mediocre juggler and a terrible salesman. Despite these failings, I've been fortunate enough to experience this nirvana like state of mind more than once in my life. Curiously, it's never been when I've intentionally pursued it, but rather when I'm not concentrating on it at all. I've experienced it most often while writing a challenging piece of code. Puzzling away at it for hours or days on end, and then finally, something clicks, and the code is all of a sudden writing itself using my hands. My keyboard serving only as a mode of transportation. It's over before I even know it had begun, and I'm left in a endorphin induced euphoric geeky stupor. I've never experienced another buzz like it. It's addictive, and I'm always left wanting more.

Imagine my surprise when I found nearly that precise sense of euphoric wonder when I started riding. I don't want to give you the wrong impression, this was not a case of love at first ride. I am probably the worlds most unlikely biker. When one of my closest friends called me up and suggested the idea that we should sign up for the Ottawa Safety Council's Motorcycle Rider course I thought he was mental. It took him the better part of a month to convince me that this was something we needed to do. Make no mistake, I'm very much aware of the asinine stupidity that's required in order to ride a motorcycle in the first place. It is a ridiculous form of transportation. Even more so when you consider that our winter season in this country lasts on average five months if you're lucky. Riding a motorcycle even once, is tantamount to taking up arms against the survival mechanisms that have moved our species forward since the dawn of time. It is nothing short of a direct challenge to the principles of natural selection, and ultimately a self correcting problem. Acknowledging all of this, any right-minded individual would run screaming at the sight of a motorcycle on the horizon. I have no rational explanation for it, there's nothing I can write that will reconcile my intellectual knowledge of the dangers involved with the visceral need to go riding.
"Only a biker knows why a dog sticks his head out of a car window."
- Anonymous
I won't try pass off the tired cliché of the 'perfect union of man and machine' bullshit. If that were true, then bikers wouldn't die every year from stupid mistakes or unavoidable blindsided hits. Car, van, truck & SUV drivers would spot us a mile away and give us a wide berth instead of trying to squeeze by when they know it's not safe to pass. Emergency breaking, emergency swerving, and how to ditch your bike safely wouldn't be part of the curriculum on motorcycle safety courses. I'm not trying to convince you that motorcycles aren't safe. Any idiot with with a lead foot and full gas tank can see that just by riding in traffic with us. There's no avoiding the danger, so bikers need to learn how to deal with it. Corny as it may sound, vigilance is absolutely mandatory. Paranoia is your friend. Nothing short of impeccable driving etiquette and good manners will suffice. On the back of a bike, you can't afford to be an asshole.

Today marks the beginning of the 2010 riding season for me. I got my bike out of storage and man-oh-man that first ride felt good. I'm looking forward to many more over the next seven or eight months, weather permitting. You'll probably notice a few changes on the site as a result. I've got a couple of ideas on how to wed my two hobbies. I'll write more about that once I flesh out the details a bit. In the mean while, do me a favour and keep an eye out for your two wheeled neighbours when you're rolling down the road in your four wheeled monster. We may look super cool and tough as nails, but that image only works so long as the paint side is up and rubber side is down.

Safe riding.

1 comment:

Dave said...

hmmm computer programming as euphoric as riding...

Anyway with Neo, Grossevache, me, my brother and my dad we have 2\3 of the Nazgul Ottawa chapter!

Seriously chicks will dig it!

You can finally get that Frodo tattoo you've always wanted!