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Lessons of Gravel

This summer’s Harley journey was one of lessons and challenges of gravel. I am not sure what those lessons are yet, and it is time to start writing them anyway. It is clear that I have more learning from this summer’s trip than ever before and it is powerful.

Having courage is not about not fearing. It is about doing what needs to be done whether afraid or not. Fear is  a good emotion. It is a safety net. It is a flashing light attached to a siren. It is what keeps us alive and allows us to access the courage we all have embedded in every cell. Fear is a powerful motivator, a close companion, an instigator, an innovation creator, a spark of passion, a lifeline. It is a thread that binds us all, as much like love and the need for food, water, air as anything. Fear drove me to do what I had to do. “The moment to Do or Die” came at me twice in one day and nearly did me in. “Get up, get your ass in the saddle, and ride that Harley out! There is no choice. Do it or die.” Those were the voices in my head on July 3, 2012. It has taken me 2 months to bang this out and put words to the experiences of a lifetime.

Gravel roads or gravel on roads on a Harley, or any road bike for that matter, can be disasterous. It is like walking on marbles: slippery, slidey, unstable, potentially fatal, sharp, unpredictable, difficult, bad for the machinery… When riding on gravel, impeccable attention must be paid to every aspect of driving. One wrong move can send bike and rider skidding across jagged rocks waiting to shred flesh, metal, paint etc., and in my case on this journey: over the edge of very high Rocky Mountains.

I met with gravel nearly every day. I would tense up, nearly hold my breath, cringe, and hunker down trying to escape within but knowing that I had to face it. The voices in my head would say, “Oh no, gravel! I can’t do gravel! I’ll blow this and fall over!” I would inhale deeply, focus a bit ahead of the front tire, instead of my 8-12 seconds as truly required by a bike. This usually meant that instead of using my mind, legs, lower body, I was using my arms to muscle the bike which was far less effective in moving forward and seriously harder. With a poorly loaded Softail which seems to be more “tippy” than my Sportster, there was even more tension that mounted. I came to the practice of Fierce Warrior Attention to retape my head voice-loops, reminding myself to do it right.

I was reading a book on mindfulness given to me by a friend. One of the sections I read early in my trip was about Fierce Warrior Focus (or Attention). Rather than fierce as in aggressively ferocious, it was used to portray powerful impassioned intensity of focus and attention. I clung to that definition, shutting down peripheral vision, sound except for the thrum of the engine, the grinding of dirt and gravel beneath the wheels, my heartbeat thrusting blood through my veins, my breath, “In ~ out ~ in ~out…” My brain laser riveted itself to Harley/Self only. Road rules looped on forced autopilot through my head. Sometimes 20-30 minutes at a time the lesson of gravel would unfold before me. “Eyes 8-12 seconds ahead. Weight in the ass and feet. Tension to the feet and out to the road. Even speed. Focus. Feel the bike. Mind in the moment on the motorcycle.” Every fiber alert with adrenaline, a forced calm that kept the doubt at bay enough each time to get me through.

There was gravel at campgrounds and construction sites on roads and highways, on the road to Glacier, a lovely curvy road perfect for a challenging motorcycle ride ~ except  for the gravel, through Glacier which was wet and slippery from snow runoff. There was gravel in Yellowstone. And then, there was the biggest challenge of all, the mountain in Wyoming after a disastrous dump at Old Faithful which truly tested my heart, my strength and my will. For the entire trip, I viewed the gravel as a challenge that I had to overcome, a fight that needed to be won, instead of a fight to be ONE.

A few weeks after I had returned, with regained confidence and new lessons, I had an epiphany. Those were not challenges that I had overcome, not fights at all, they were triumphs. I had wrestled with my own self-confidence, my own fear, my own demons and doubts, those voices in my head looking to beat me down at every turn, and triumphed. That small shift in word choice turned my perspective 180 degrees. At a very important point in my journey of “wrastling” with my self-doubt, I remember riding easily and smoothly over gravel and stopping just right to park the Harley at a campsite. I heard loudly enough that I sheepishly turned around to see if others had heard the voices shouting loudly and clearly, “YEAH! Alright, nice JOB! You go girl!!” The voices in my head had changed their tune, the tapes had been switched and I am still not sure by whom, but am so grateful!


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