On a motorcycle, it is said you go where you look. The problem is that often times we simply don't have "faith" in the bike, the suspension, the tires or the road to go through the corner focusing on where we would like to go. Instead, we go too slowly so we can fixate of the things we're afraid of. That bump in the road, that pebble, that leaf. We tense up. Because of this tension we feel we're going about as fast as the bike can go around the corner. The larger danger is when Bad Things Happen. We come into a corner too fast. We're surprised by that car or that deer. Then our fixation on what we are afraid of becomes the /REASON/ we crash. We tense. The bike immediately becomes even harder to turn. We grab the brake and the bike stands up because we /KNOW/, quite incorrectly, that the bike can't corner faster. We fixate on the thing that scared us and we run right into it. The outcome predestined simply because we were afraid of it.
If only, when these surprises happen, we could control our fear and overcome our instinct to tense up we could calmly turn tighter than we thought possible simply believing the tires will stick, 99 times out of a hundred we'll avoid the crash. We are our own greatest danger on the motorcycle.
I ran through the Gap many times picking corners carefully where I explored this fear. Instead of braking into the corner I would stay on the gas going very slightly faster than I /felt/ the bike could go. I would scare myself and watch what I did. I tensed up and I could feel the bike get sluggish around the corner and start to go wide. I felt my hands, arms, back, neck, tense up. I paid attention to the feeling so I could recognize it when it happens. I repeated this time and time again until I no longer tensed up on a given corner at a given speed. I then realized that at this new speed I was actually hardly leaning the bike at all. I repeated the process and continued to improve at no time even coming close to sliding a tire or dragging a peg.
One time, I came into a corner way too hot. It was dip with a hard left hand. I had been on the throttle trail braking and forgot to let go of the throttle. Doh! The bike launched forward way faster than I was ready for. I could feel every muscle tense up and then, faced with running wide which was a very bad thing, I simply forced myself to relax and pushed the inside bar HARD while letting go of the of the outside bar gripping the tanks with my legs for dear life. I didn't dump the throttle which would be akin to grabbing the brake in a panic. My big blue bike turned faster and easier than I've ever experienced and I made the corner well within the white line. What's important is that I didn't even drag peg meaning the bike could have cut the corner even tighter and quicker if only I could get comfortable with that lean.
There are countless events in life where we are faced with a panic reaction. A little bit of panic is a useful survival trait. But too much panic, as is the case in tensing up in a corner, causes us inevitably to act contrary to what's best for us. As I rode around those wonderful corners at Deal's Gap exploring the limits of my fear and slowly conquering it, I wished I could do the same when Bad Things happen in life; like when that phone call you never wanted comes or you get that unfortunate text that breaks your heart. You get tense. You focus like a hawk on the thing that hurt you, that scares you. You inevitably make things worse.
I wish there were a way to practice calm in the face of surprising bad life events. Inevitably, even with the best of intentions, I make things worse by fixating on what I fear, the bumps in the road that scare me, instead of looking through the corner to where I would really like to go, the wonderful road ahead.
If you figure out how to do it, how to look past the stumbling blocks of fear, please share. Everyone has their own fears and ways around them; I feel like some leftover from when I was a kid and had no faith in myself to move past them at all have hovered around for way, way too long.
At least you can do the work in one way. One way is better than no ways. Any fear faced is better than none at all.
Thanks again for writing this.