●●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.
Hospital of Harvard Medical School and has
IF YOU COULD see me, you’d probably be asking yourself, “Why is Barnes up at four in the morning on a Tuesday writing his column?” Good question.
I wish I had a good answer.
I do have an answer, but it’s tantamount to admitting I have all the emotional self-control of a six-year-old on
Christmas morning. I thought maybe if
I started putting my agitation into words,
the absurdity of it would somehow drive
me back into bed and off to sleep again.
But, if you’re reading this, it means that’s
not how things turned out. So, I’ll back
up and start this story where it really
My buddy Russ sent me an email
with a time-delay fuse. In it, he invited
me to accompany a small band of other
middle-aged dirt enthusiasts on a dual-sport adventure in Colorado next summer—almost exactly 53 weeks away.
Several groups of local (east Tennessee)
riders have been making similar trips
on an annual basis for a long time, and
Russ got his first taste last year. Having
skipped this summer’s pilgrimage, he
was now leading the charge on 2016.
I’d heard tales and seen photos from
some of those previous trips, and it was
always easy to absorb the enthusiasm
Russ and others had brought back with
them. I’d actually been invited by a couple of groups to go ride trails out west
last year—but only after I had already
committed to other plans. Then said
plans disintegrated after it was too late
to jump on board with any of the Colo-rado-bound riders! Aaarghhh!!!
My summer of 2015 has been swallowed whole by a house purchase and
move, which have severely curtailed riding of any sort. So, when Russ offered me
a place on next year’s roster, my spring
was heavily preloaded and I immediately said yes. In the remaining hours of
the day, I felt some vague pleasure and
mild excitement about this opportunity
and decision. I was happy to have the
trip secured on my calendar and knew
I would look forward to it with increasing intensity as the time drew near and
details grew clear. After all, it was still a
long way off in the future; there would
be plenty of time to get truly worked up
Apparently, only four-and-a-half hours
were required. Having drifted peacefully
to sleep at 11: 30 p.m., I awoke with a
start at 4:00 a.m. Had I been dreaming
about the Colorado trip? Had the reality
of it simply sunk in somewhere in my
slumbering brain? I didn’t know. But I
did know beyond any shadow of doubt
this was going to be a Big Deal.
Logistically, the trip would be a cakewalk for me. Russ was incorporating our
week of riding into a larger vacation he
would be taking with his camper trailer.
He very generously offered to haul my
motorcycle in the remaining slot in his
truck bed and intimated there may even
be room for some of my gear. All I had
to do was fly out and meet him there.
Sweeeeeet! And, given that all the others
in the group were Colorado dual-sporting veterans, I could trust them to select
routes and suggest accommodations
that I would have no idea how to find
or choose on my own. In other words,
there was no heavy lifting left for me to
do. I was quite literally “just along for
But Colorado is a long way from
home. I’ve hiked and done a little
cabin-camping there before, but I’ve
never ridden a motorcycle at the altitudes where we’d be, nor do I have any
experience touring and camping on a
dual-sport bike. And, of all the motorcycles I own, my dual-sport is definitely
the one I feel least confident about—in
terms of both its mechanical reliability
and my ability to set it up for, and ride
it through, completely alien landscapes.
What if it breaks down? What if I can’t
get the jetting right? What if my skills
aren’t adequate for Western-style wilderness? What if my lungs can’t scavenge
enough oxygen for me to heave the bike
upright after a spill?
I have enough trouble on my own
home turf, where I know what to expect
and have strategies for managing familiar difficulties. My dual-sport is just a
big-bore woods bike with aftermarket
lights, mirror and horn—it definitely has
no adventure-touring DNA whatsoever.
So, just one question among many: What
tools will I need to add to my pack for
extended travel? I won’t have the luxury
of an SUV (with toolbox) and a trailer
waiting where I left it at the trail-head.
Funny, that never seemed like a “luxury”
before. I had thought the usual risk of
being stranded a handful of miles from
my supplies was a pretty awful possibility, but that obviously can’t compare with
sustaining damage to bike or body with
my SUV, toolbox and trailer well over
1000 miles away, and who knows how
far we’ll be from other resources. Yikes!
But what woke me up wasn’t just
this hodgepodge of worries, most of
which I could neutralize by reminding
myself that I had a year to research
what’s needed and make preparations,
and there would be very knowledgeable
people with me who could assist if I
had trouble. No, what really launched
me bolt upright in bed was all the positive anticipations I have for this trip.
I was imagining the gorgeous scenery,
the exhilaration of reaching ridge-tops
where dramatic expanses would suddenly open up before me, the satisfaction of finding my way over challenging
terrain and problem-solving mechanical
difficulties, and the camaraderie I hope
to share with my fellow adventurers as
we struggle together through the day and
tell stories at night. This outing will be
genuinely epic, at least among my collection of Big Riding Trips.
True, I would feel less anxious if I
had some familiarity with the destination and with pressing my bike into this
kind of service. I’ll pick the brains of
those who’ve done these rides in the past,
and I can deliberately test my machine’s
trip-worthiness closer to home in the
months ahead. But no amount of study
and prep-work can fully offset the tension—an amalgam of apprehension and
excitement—of facing the unknown.
That’s what makes it so special to do
something the first time.
While I may look forward to subsequent Colorado trips in future years,
none of them will have the same aura
of mystery and uncertainty that this one
has. It isn’t just a new frontier geographically, it’s a new frontier psychologically—a whole new category of personal
challenge. I have a hunch this spot on
the (for now) distant horizon will be an
orienting point throughout the coming
year as I ready my self and my equipment, fueled by the very same energy
that awoke me at 4:00 a.m.
I guess this adventure is already
SEE ME YOU D PROBABLY ABOUT THE OLORADO TRIP AD THE REALITY
OF IT SIMPLY SUNK IN SOMEWHERE IN MY
SLUMBERING BRAIN DIDN T KNOW UT
MILES AWAY AND WHO KNOWS HOW
FAR WE LL BE FROM OTHER RESOURCES