●●Dr. Mark Barnes is a Clinical Psychologist.
He completed his internship at The Cambridge
Hospital of Harvard Medical School and has
been in private practice since 1992 in Knoxville, TN. He owns both dirt and street bikes,
“cross-trains” on a pair of vintage P WCs, and
has written extensively for MCN since 1996.
Mental Motorcycling by Mark Barnes, Ph.D.
AFTER AN ESPECIALLY frustrating win- ter that saw all my plans to ride foiled with relentless consistency,
the necessary ingredients were finally in
place. Instead of snow or cold rain, this
morning featured brilliant sunshine and
the promise of afternoon temps in the 70s.
Instead of striking out with potential partners who could only ride when I couldn’t,
I’d secured the companionship of a recently
met friend who, although we’d never ridden
together, seemed compatible. And, instead
of having to abort my outing because of
some unavoidable last minute intrusion, I
was still free and clear as I cinched the final
tie-down and loaded my gear.
The fun had actually started a few days
earlier, when it sunk in that this time the
ride might really happen. I felt something
thaw inside—finally catching up with the
gorgeous spring weather I’d thus far been
unable to enjoy. The repeated disappointments had taken a toll, and I’d found it
increasingly difficult to get excited about
riding plans. As a weekend’s forecast grew
more ominous or other obstacles appeared
on the horizon, I couldn’t muster any
energy for the minor prep work needed
to get my motorcycle ready for action.
Although I wanted everything prepped, to
allow exploitation of the next opportunity
at a moment’s notice, I kept procrastinating, demoralized by a sense of futility. Now
the spark of enthusiasm had returned.
During every available minute, I
squeezed in the required service on not just
one, but two bikes. Jeff, my new accomplice, had his own machines, but they
weren’t suitable for the serious off-road
riding we’d be doing. Changing engine and
air filter oils, pouring fresh fuel, adjusting
tire pressures and suspension settings, and
lubing chains and control pivots energized
me, like appetizers raising expectations for
the main course. I actually relished the pre-ride rituals—thoroughly familiar, but not
quite as automatic after my lengthy hiatus.
I carefully selected our gear (Jeff would
be borrowing a set) and ensured my tool
bag and backpack were properly stocked.
Every detail was tended to by bedtime the
night before our departure.
Amazingly, when Jeff arrived and tried
on my gear, everything fit just fine. Could
this really be happening? Were there
really no eleventh-hour, deal-breaking
complications? We didn’t wait around
for one to develop.
Once off the trailer at the OHV park 45
minutes later, both bikes started promptly
and idled smoothly. Jeff opted for the two-stroke 250, so I rode the slightly more intimidating big-bore four-stroke, a bike I hadn’t
completely befriended yet. Its heft, brutal
power and inadequate traction on worn tires
left me wary, and I also wasn’t confident its
suspension setup would behave well in the
mixed conditions awaiting us. Although this
day was dry, there’d been lots of rain over
the last week. I expected challenging water
crossings, deep mud and a treacherous layer
of greasy clay on top of hard-packed trails.
There would also be harsh rock gardens,
and high areas that drained quickly. In other
words, we’d face widely varying terrain. I
wondered if my suspension setting guesses
would be good compromises, and if the new
tires would work well.
I was also concerned about Jeff’s comfort on an unfamiliar bike in an unfamiliar
place, neither of which were user-friendly.
While falling occasionally simply goes
with this kind of territory, I certainly didn’t
want to see him crash and actually get
hurt. And I wasn’t sure he’d enjoy himself
amidst all the discomforts, exertion and
potentially scary situations involved.
I needn’t have worried; Jeff had a blast
and turned out to be built of sturdy stuff.
He had little trouble keeping up a nice pace
and suffered only one dramatic get-off,
ironically on a fast gravel road connecting
much more difficult areas. I looked back
just in time to see him execute the first dirt
high-side I’ve witnessed in person. It was
a classic example of what happens when
the rear regains traction while hung out in
a slide: the bike flipped him off across the
curve’s outer edge, where a near-vertical
wooded slope awaited his arrival. Luckily, he stopped short of tumbling down the
mountainside and the 250 suffered only a
busted handguard deflector and an easily
untwisted front-end tweak. I love it when
acrobatics are accompanied by so little cost.
Jeff also demonstrated bravery equal
to my poor judgment. After realizing I’d
missed a turn, I wondered out loud about
hooking up with the desired trail via a
“short cut” visible nearby. This would
mean descending an extraordinarily grisly,
ultra-steep and circuitous hundred-yard
stretch of boulders, rock shelves and shale
patches that would have been very daunt-
ing to someone on foot, let alone riders
perched high on two wheels. When I men-
tioned the idea, which would have at best
saved us a whole five minutes compared to
simply doubling back to the missed turn,
I didn’t expect Jeff to be game; after all,
I wasn’t really game, myself—I was just
musing. But when he said, “Sure!” I ques-
tioned my own apprehension, and gingerly
began my decent.
Note to self: Always scout out insane
downhill sections before committing 270
lbs. of machinery where you can’t possibly
return the way you came. After timidly easing down the first 100', I realized there was
no way we’d be able to drop off a shelf further down that had been invisible from the
top. Maybe a champion trials rider could
plummet off its edge and land facing 90°
left to avoid the next jagged rock outcropping, but not us. Problem was, I couldn’t
get my bike turned around for an attempt to
retake the summit, and was very doubtful I
could reclimb the section, even if pointed
in the right direction. Traction was terribly
sketchy, and any suddenly acquired grip
could result in a back flip with dire consequences (read: tangled heap of bent metal
and compound fractures).
Jeff somehow scooted down to my position and helped me rotate my bike. Without
his aid, I couldn’t have managed that feat,
given how hard it was just to stand where
I’d halted. No doubt his presence also
helped me muster the courage to mount my
upward assault, which miraculously suc-
ceeded on the first try—due entirely to the
phenomenal engineering of modern motor-
cycles and the startling grip of those new
tires, since I’d done nothing more skillful
than take a deep breath and hold my weight
forward as I pulled the trigger. Whew!
We were well and truly knackered by
the time we got back to the trailer. This ride
had it all—glorious weather, full-spectrum
trail conditions, grave peril, great camara-
derie, and survival with nothing worse than
leaking fork seals and sore muscles. Both
motorcycles had performed flawlessly, and
our middle-aged bodies, though totally
spent, had endured the abuse and lasted
all day. The following week of cleaning,
mending and re-servicing the bikes was
filled with satisfying memories of the
ride, and eager anticipation of the next.
I’d made friends with my newest bike and
a new riding buddy; does it get any better?
Long overdue adventures full of dis-
proved misgivings are the best!
a Great Ride