Friday, September 07, 2007

Opening the Medicine Cabinet At 10:00 PM

Its not that often I get headaches. Less often that I take anything for them. If a headache can mysteriously appear then it can just as mysteriously vanish. They fade away and you suddenly realize you can think clearly again. Whether it takes a day or a couple days, the one thing to be careful of is one's demeanor during the episode. Some people suffer migraines which could literally wipe them out physically. You can see it on their skin, the expressions of their faces. My mother, rest her soul, rode out more of those than I can remember.

While headaches are physical and painful maladies, there are other conditions which can leave us in similarly lethargic states. The absence of an addiction for instance. The loss of an opportunity to do something you really looked forward to is another. The only medicine seems to be to get back in the game. You won't feel "right" until you do.

It was in this state of mind that I found myself thinking about what ails and cures a person. I hadn't had a headache in a while but something somewhere must've triggered the thought. The house is near completion, the yard is passable and family is taken care of. My wife suggested it was time to take care of me.

I walked into the bathroom and looked at the guy staring back at me. A tired face. Not overworked but drained. The face of the guy I know morphed into the one who seven years ago fought cancer. I remember that face all too well. In those days I kept on breathing and staggering and puking and not giving up for the the people around me. My own fault I never take my own life seriously. Or of some special value. What kept me going in those days was that people wanted me around. They believed they needed me.

Something from the past fired into the present like a shot. Like a blazing bullet and it stung the image in the mirror right between the eyes. What is the worth of life if one does not relish in the living of it?

I'd made a promise somewhere in the suffering dying days of treatment. That if I were to live for a few months or past this, or to a full life beyond, that I was going to live dammit. That I wasn't going to be just another ant willingly subserviant to a groupthink hegemony.

I took that woman's advice at ten pm that night and got myself seriously lost on a scooter in central Minnesota. I headed west to start and had to head west to get home again once I regained my bearings. I rode with abandon. Not wild as a young kid with a need for speed, but as one whose mind is purposefully unencumbered. I regained myself in stages. The stars seem closer on nights like these.

I met a guy on a fly green chopper with Eddie from the metal band Iron Maiden airbrushed ripping through the paint. We talked about life for while. Then we rode on. The clock read three thirty when I finally brought the garage door down.

For whatever reason a ride brings me back to center. I'm a better person when I take the necessary time to be who I am. More useful to the people around me. Keith, riding his Vegas built chopper said he was glad to have met me. The depth of what we spoke about and the smile on his face, the weight which appeared to be sloughed off his shoulders, means I did something more than just ride that night. I helped someone who happened to need someone like me. I guess that's all that's really important.

If you have the right medecine, share it.


Monday, September 03, 2007

80% Rule Revisited

When you ride a motorcycle or scooter you learn you can operate the machine a few different ways. You can barrel through the turns at the edge of your capability with sweat popping out of your forehead and tingles running up and down your spine, or you can take another pace which puts you near the edge with options.

When I was younger I thought I was in high gear. I leaned her hard. My footpegs were sprung and I tapped them to the tarmac regularly. Sometimes I held the edge, playing with my life. The sparks I knew were rooster tailing on the dropped side a cool visual shower between the front and rear lights of the bike. People following my line told me so.

But every now and then that spooky moment would occur. Just a few pebbles in the path and the shimmy of death began. In that moment you either ham fisted it into the ditch or you instinctively relaxed and rode it out like a good dirt tracker. My parents insisted my first bike be an enduro and I learned it well. Still, I played too close to the edge for street use and bravado.

Over time I began experimenting with how I rode these wonderful beasts. Holding lines and pitching into the turns. How much countersteer seemed best when combined with different lean angles. I became smoother. I certainly felt more in control.

Then one day a man I knew, a collector of Nortons and Triumphs, spoke of something he called the 80% rule. Simply put, he said there was no reason for a street rider to flirt with disaster by riding to the limit of that rider's capabilities. He also spoke of the bikes breaking down less below eighty percent throttle and tach. He said you could hear a bike's preference if you just listened to the machine run.

In order for music to be played well, a musician adjusts against what the musician hears.

Somewhere above eighty percent throttle the natural pattern of engine sounds becomes jumbled. The notes in the engine's song as you ride seem as though the various sections of the orchestra are playing different rhythms. When the drums outpace the horns and the woodwinds can't suck enough air to keep up something's about to give.

If you're lucky, instruments in the mechanical band beneath you simply stop playing. There's a minor flash, an epiphany in the rhythm section as the bike dies a quick death and you roll to a stop. But what if the players articulate the tune and your own skill in conducting puts you two measures behind?


You slow the tempo down. A more deliberate pace, a broader potential. Should a car cross the center line in a right hand sweeper you can flop the bike and move from the left third of the lane to the right third because you've given yourself at least twenty percent to work with in a dire moment. Its knowing a shortcut but not living by it.

In a world where all forms of inattentive driving can be encountered we have to take every advantage we can. Eighty percent throttle (or rpm's) lets our bikes run the way their designers meant them to. That remaining twenty percent usable throttle can make the difference in squirting out of a jam if need be. But we can only use that twenty percent if we leave ourselves the room to make it available.

A bene placido