What you are able to lift today is largely due to what you have purposely lifted repeatedly before.
How far/fast/well you can ride is largely dependent upon how much you have ridden before. Try to go fast on your first ride out and you are almost guaranteed to crash in the first corner. Lacking the relevant experience, you are likely to take actions based on the wrong sources, fear instead of discpline, blind reaction instead of planning. You enter the corner and everything /feels/ wrong. You panic and that panic turns into a set of actions almost beyond your control as you stare straight at the thing you are most afraid of, your arms lock on the bars and you run right into the wall you had so desperately wanted to avoid.
Some would say that it's because you were going too fast. There are few cases I've seen where riders have tried corners that there was no recovering from. Some would say it's a lack of experience. You didn't "do" the right things. I have more and more been coming to conclusion that's it's even deeper than that. You can be told what to do. You can learn the muscle memory but until you learn to control your fear, your panic, even going much more slowly than the bike can you can find yourself in trouble.
I have often said, "You can change how you think, but you cannot change how you feel." I am not so convinced now as I have been riding Out Here and the experience has been completely different than just 3 years ago. It's calmer. Easier. So much more fluid. I ride along the edge of bumpy unkept roads looking down into the abyss with a serene sense of calm. Gravel, dirt, surprises in corners no longer harsh my calm the way they used to. How I feel when riding has changed.
Interestingly, as so many will tell you about most physical activities, "it's 95% mental" and there in lies an interesting thought. We can likely all agree that what I can do today is dependent on what I have done before. But, is what I can think today dependent upon what I have practiced thinking before?
There is a blog called Study Hacks which explores excellence and what people do to become excellent at a given endeavor. It's said it takes 10,000 hours of directed practice, typically over 5 years, to become an expert at something. In essence, to force your brain to change it's form to allow you to think something you previously could not.
But here in lies the basis for a division that separates people.
What you have thought intently about over many hours changes you. It changes the structure of the brain. Practiced artists look at a scene, see things with a complex vocabulary that eludes me. "I see blue. What do you mean there's something there other than blue?" I remember the first time I saw an engine all I saw was one block of metal, the component parts completely invisible. I also remember the interesting sensation of being able to "see" the parts as soon as I understood they were there. (This actually still happens the first time I look at a new assembly.) Talk to a marketeer and there's another completely different lens to the world that's invisible to the rest of us. What we see immediately and is obvious to us can be invisible to someone else. Even when you point it out to them, if they have no experience, they may not be able to see it clearly. It takes time and directed effort, practice, to see.
I think about this in relation to culture. As we grow up, we're immersed in one, or in some of our cases, multiple cultures. There are assumptions about interpersonal interactions, respect, politeness, correctness and a host of other topics. We form in these cultures and what we are able to see in others is, much like the engine assembly that seemed like a block of metal, based on our own cultural background. In other words, how our brain is wired, our experiences, will allow us to see or not see qualities and intentions in others.
It doesn't need to be national cultures, German and American. It can be much finer grained that that. It can even be Biker and Motorcyclist. The biker looks at the motorcyclist and is, I believe, offended. "Why don't you ride a Harley, son? You too good for us? Why do you wear all that silly power ranger stuff?" The biker, unable to see the focus on roads, riding, machine and destination that is the hallmark of the motorcyclist, dismisses the motorcyclist. I've always thought the 'are you too good for us' comment was particularly telling about the value system of the biker. The motorcyclist, on the other hand, looking at the helmetless biker with his patch covered leather costume and shiny trailered bike wonders, "Why on earth would you do that? That can't be any fun and what happens if you crash." The motorcyclist dismisses the biker as delusional. Neither truly sees the other because the gap in experience is too great.
But physics is a cruel mistress. I am reminded of a story about the Vikings. As the winters got colder, the Vikings, holding on to tradition and membership in their own culture, died out because they were unwilling to accept, or possibley unable to see, the ways of the local peoples who were thriving in the cold.
What you practice determines what you can think. What you can think determines what you can see. I had a fascinating conversation with a rider out here who had quite an outsiders insight into motorcycle gang culture. He talked about the rigidly cruel rules of respect, heirarchy, membership, pride and a host of topics too long to mention. He talked about how easy it is to offend these people and the dire consequences possible. It reminded me of very fine grained social interactions in parts of Japanese culture that have been described to me once. I thought about the time and effort it would take to learn, an internalize, all these fine interactions, social cues, rules, etc. How would being immersed in a culture like that affect how you perceive the world? What you can think? What value judgements you make?
Maybe this explains some of the divisions between peoples. Because we formed differently, it's not just that we disagree or have, using a common base of experience, come to different conclusions. Maybe it's that we are physically unable to see and understand the what the other persons sees and values and why.
If that's the case, it means being able to see and understand what someone else sees means, to some degree, rewiring our own brain. This, then, implies that it's going to take much longer, involve much more directed work and be much harder than one would hope. Most are not up for that kind of challenge so the divisions and misunderstandings remain. Maybe much trouble in the political spectrum can be explained this way.
Attempting this work, because I am unkind to myself and never seem to take the easy way out, has been the approach I have been trying since the Big Alaska Trip. It is amazingly difficult and surprisingly painful.
This is a thought in progress and there is quite a bit more to say on the topic ....
When compared to the Alaska trip there have been relative few critters on this trip. There have been, however, quite a number of mountain goats or whatever these critters are. Fortunately, drivers out here are very polite and will stop with four ways on whenever a group of these are near the road.
Hills cut bare can be seen everywhere followed by hills covered in blighted tree skeletons. It's terribly depressing to see. The scale is simply unimaginable. Seemingly more sections of forest look like this than are left standing and green.
I never took much of an interest in American History, my preference was Norse Mythology. Out Here you get much more of a sense that certains short periods in American History are very significant to the people here.
I stayed at a nice hotel on the Salmon river in Salmon, Idaho. A few years ago a woman said I should visit this place, so I did. On the surface, it looks like any other town around here but there's a special character here. I'm not sure how to describe it. I sat outside next to the river drinking bad coffee thinking about the differences in how we form.
There was a dramatic sky.
BMW MOA members had suggested that I ride through Bear Tooth Pass which, on the map, looked to be just North of Yellowstone. I thought I saw what looked like a good road just North of the park that would lead me to it. As has been the case on this trip, I found secondary roads and avoided SuperSlab like the plague. Route 28 out of Salmon proved to be a nice albeit straight ride through this monster ever expanding valley. In a world of sameness, this proved to be truly different. After quite a few miles, I began to consider the wisdom of leaving with only 2/3 of a tank of gas. The GPS showed no gas stations for over 70 miles and I was predicting I would run out in 50. It was then a gas station, rest stop, general store, gun shop appeared. Contrary to it's appearance, this was not a tourist town.
"There are only 278 people who live in this area. We don't see each other often." the friendly man said.
Only one fuel grade. 85 octane. The pump must have been 40 years old. Across the street was the official General Store and Post Office.
This was a little oasis in the middle of NoWhere(tm). I was glad to be here. I sat under a shaded overhang for a while and drank some water while I contemplated the road ahead. Off I went as the valley became wider and dropped down noticeably and turned into a desert.
After an hour and a half, I stopped to get some water and cool off a bit. I talked to a nice couple on a Harley for a bit. They seemed to like the M-BY-MC concept. Shamefully, I have forgetten their names.
Inside the gas station was a little fast food joint. In the store itself, they sold trail mix. Being a bit hungry I got a bottle of water and some trail mix. I thought it was the same kind I had had before. Dried fruit with an assortment of nuts. I was too tired, hungry and thirsty to notice that it was not the same.
The fruit was covered in sugar. I'm not sure why I didn't immediately taste it. My future was spoken for. Interestingly, I didn't start having symptoms immediately. I drank some more coffee, got back on the bike and continued on the route I had laid out for myself.
To my shock it became clear that the road I had chosen actually went through the park and not around it.
"Shit." I thought as I considered my options. I had hoped to get close to Bear Tooth Pass so I could cross it early in the morning, but if this road goes through the park then all the hotels in the town on the far end were likely to be booked solid. I rolled into West Yellowstone, a horrible tourist trap filled with people from all over the planet. The streets were packed and hotel after hotel confirmed my fear.
Hedging my bets, I saw a Best Western that didn't have a prominent No Vacancy sign. As fate would have it, I got the last room. Unfortunately, it was by far the most expensive stay of the trip and, adding insult to injury, for the remainder of my stay there neither the wifi nor the 3g worked. It was as if all bandwidth was being used. I laid down for a bit and uncharacteristically passed out during the late afternoon.
"Sugar." I thought as I woke up. I was going to be in for a rough couple of days.
I had dinner and then tried to go back to bed but was unable to sleep much. The next day involved a slow start. I had hoped to get some writing done but the wifi and 3g were still no joy.
Adding to the traffic and population, there was some huge car show going on.
Personally, I'm a fan of the Willys Jeep, a number of which could be seen driving around. The show was primarily a hot rod show, or so I was told. You saw countless vehicles like these in pristine shape rolling around.
It took a good 25 minutes to get through the gate into the park. I thought, judging by the number of people, that it was going to take much longer. The sign on the other side confirmed what I had feared the previous night. No vacancies.
Rolling along in traffic after the gate, I spent my time looking at the scenery and thinking about divisions. I have often said, "It's not important to know who you are. You know who you are. What's important is to understand how you are different from others so that you can have a starting point with which to bridge those gaps." There are quite a few people on Facebook and in other places who think of me as a "biker" for some reason I don't understand. They send me things on Facebook, such as photos of highly customized Harley's or scantilly glad overly tattooed biker chicks on choppers. I take it as a nice gesture in the sense I believe they are trying to send me things they think I might be interested in. I do appreciate it, but how do I articulate how I am different than what we typically think of as a "biker". "If you want to send me photos of women on motorcycles, send me photos of someone riding in full gear doing something really cool. Don't send me photos of biker chicks, send me photos of motorcyclists." I would think to myself.
So as I was thinking about "biker" vs "motorcyclist" I asked myself what is the difference? A biker doesn't necessarily ride a Harley but they typically do. If there's no law requiring it, they ride helmetless. They typically don't wear gear favoring instead thin decorative leather sporting patch covered vests clearly identifying their allegiances. "Membership." I thought. They seem to value togetherness, group. They often describe their compatriots as "brothers". You think tatooes, scantily clad objectified women, bikes ridden feet forwards hands high in the air.
Motorcyclists, on the other hand, are more about the actual act of riding. A motorcyclist is a more technical creature focusing more on the physics, the handling, the technique of riding. Motorcyclists typically wear full faced helmets and often wear full gear. They are typically more focused on performance, cornering, braking, acceleration and the other technical performance aspects of their bikes. They rarely ride bikes that are feet forward and will more often than not ride bikes "english style" with either feet below them or behind them leaning more forward. A Motorcyclist doesn't ride with Ape Hangers. Motorcyclists typically are more interested it the places they go than how they look getting there. Motorcyclists rarely wear group patches and when they do they are more often then not brand patches as opposed to club patches. A motorcyclist is presently aware of the crash and is not in denial about it.
It's a rough division and requires some debate and refinement, but it makes for a starting point. I am a motorcyclist and not a biker. I will, sometimes, ride with bikers but we understand we are different beasts and our worlds are almost completely separate except for the fact that we ride two wheeled vehicles. But we do wave at each other, well most of us, and when broken down we stop to help.
Traffic cleared up a little bit and I came upon a Harley. "Biker" I thought before I noticed the helmet. Then I noticed his line. He saw me in the rearview and immediately stayed in the left side of the lane and I the right. "Motorcyclist riding a Harley." I thought. "Sneakers though. That's not good."
At one point I rolled up next to him at one of the many stops due to traffic, and shouting over earplugs, we started to talk. He was from Perth, Australia and had rented the bike for a 3 month continent wide ride. It was almost as dirty as my bike. "Props." I thought.
He rolled into a rest stop and I followed.
Chris the Australian.
He was an entertaining chap from down under. I had a bit of trouble understanding his accent and vocabulary at time. "Bloody 'ell! They nicked my boots and kevlar riding trousers so I'm 'avin to ride in these sneakers and jeans." he said uncomfortably. He had been camping and his stuff got ripped off.
"Oh man, that sucks." I said. We talked for a bit. He works in the Oil and Gas industry and may be moving to the states to work TransOcean, a company I know a little bit about. He's ridden through Russian and all over New Zealand. "You need to ride New Zealand, mate. It' s brilliant, simply brilliant."
After a while, he said, "Should we get back to it and do some miles". With that we started riding together. I said I was heading through to Bear Tooth Pass. He was heading to Billings. At first we thought it was going to be along different routes. After a while in traffic, we came to a stop sign. There was a service station. Just as I was about to go he calls over, "'ow about a coffee? I'll buy you one".
We hung out for a while. He had never seen bear spray before. "Bears can be a real problem." I said. "It's their country, I reckon. We're just guests here." he said. "Good man." I thought as I said, "I suspect not many people here see it that way."
We decided to ride together until lunch in Cooke CIty, MT on the other side of the park. Cooke City is at the beginning of Bear Tooth Pass Highway. It was a slower ride filled with many buffalo.
I was tempted to stop more but nothing really caught my eye. There were bison. Many bison. There was also apparently a bear down in a gulley but I didn't stop for it.
There were fantastic vistas as one is likely to see in Yellowstone.
We stopped at this great bistro populated by, I believe they were, french. Chris continued with the stories. We talked about travel. Local wildlife. "I'm not afraid to catch a snake, but I don't know the behavior of these snakes." he said as he described the kinds of snakes he's had to deal with in Australia. "I always take anti-venom with me. If I'm with someone else I take two." he said about going hiking. "Australia seems contrary to life." I said.
He's big in the Harley Owners Group and has taken riding courses and often leads rides, I believe many commecially. He talked about taking people on tours. His philosophy and mine seem to match on many levels.
We parted company. He needed to get to Billings and I wanted to take a slow ride over the pass.
Bear Tooth Pass Highway is simply amazing. It's lower elevation than roads like Mount Evans or Pikes Peak but somehow the landscape is different, more colorful, more alive with vibrant greens, blues, and purples. There are ponds and lakes the shimmer in the sunlight and boulders are strewn across the landscape as if thrown there by passing giants.
The road surface was generally pretty good, but bumpy in places. There was one section of heavy construction. Estimated wait times exceeded thirty minutes.
Every time this loader dropped a boulder into the truck it would shudder. To my surprise, despite having left earlier than I did, Chris rolled up behind me. "After all that coffee I had to stop and take a piss!" he said with a big smile on his face. After about 20 minutes the guide truck took us over the broken gravel and dirt and Chris and I were riding together again. I had told him that I was likely to just stop and take a bunch of photos. True to my word I did.
This road is just nuts. One might be tempted to keep up some speed but the scenery is so spectacular you are more likely to have cars come up behind you.
This road is just crazy.
Photos, words. All inadequate.
I was feeling a bit self conscious about stopping when Chris said, "I can't believe people don't stop to look. This is bloody brilliant."
What the photo doesn't show is that the lake is probably 1000 feet if not more below.
The clouds were equally dramatic.
There wasn't much traffic but the traffic that was there was pretty slow. A group of old time chevy's dating from the early 50's were slowly making their way over the pass. But somehow, because of the simple beauty of the place you just didn't care.
At an overlook we met a man who ran KLR off-road tours through the area. He strongly suggested that I stay in Red Lodge saying there were good restaurants and hotels. "I can't. I have to ride to Billings to meet me mate." Chris said.
We rode down the switchbacks of the mountain and into Red Lodge. I thought about riding to Billings but Chris said, "People I've talked to said this is the place to be." He used a different term for 'place to be' but I forget what it was. Australian is an entertaining and colorful dialect.
With that we parted company. "You should go to Sturgis." he said as he left.
I found a hotel, a ridiculously expensive hotel, but thankfully I found it just in time. I hadn't realized how poorly I was feeling. The full onslaught of having had sugar was unleashed on me. I hate when that happens and I hate it even more when it happens on the road. Interestingly, every time I go off diet my mood crashes and I found myself back in that dark worthless angry place where all paths lead to ruin and loneliness. As long as I know what's causing it, I'm ok, but sometimes it sneaks up one me unawares and I don't realize I'm feeling what I'm feeling because of physical reasons and then I make mistakes ...
Sucking it up, I had a dinner at a very nice wine bar. I sipped wine and listened to a guy play classical guiter. The bikers next to me got up and left. "This place is a bit too tame for our taste." they said. I talked to a couple from Minnesota who were asking about scotch.
The town was full of bikers. So I got up and went to one of the biker bars just to take a look. Finding nothing that really kept my attention I meandered back to the hotel and tried to call it an early night.
Feeling down and unmotivated with the sense that I was getting sick I began to consider whether or not I should go through Sturgis. I really don't want to but there's this sense it might an interesting "learning rich", as the Germans say, experience. I just don't know if I'm up for it.
I'm almost out of time. Today, I head South East towards the Mount Rushmore area. There's supposed to be another good road, route 16A Needles Highway I believe. Once again I'll try to avoid superslab to get there. I might head to Sturgis from the backside or maybe I'll just head straight towards the Badlands.
If you like these reports please share them along. If you have any questions, suggestions or comments please feel free to post on the facebook page or join the forum here. Until next time.
For a list of all the maps from the trip check out the maps page.