A mind for the road

Dear Stringer,

(via email)

You know I’ve been thinking more on our discussion about some of our best rides being some of our worst. I think what I was trying to convey comes across a little better where I can set more of the scene. So, I set out in some pretty poor weather to test the theory. I know you dislike my verbosity but if you would oblige me a few minutes I think you might feel my point.

One destination stood out to me. As you know the north-west of Tasmania is home to some pretty wild roads and incredible scenery. It often feels to me as though I’m riding in another country. A mysterious island merging threads of motorcycling magic, all patch-worked together and hidden in a kind of Bermuda Triangle at the bottom of the world.

In late winter that mysterious feeling is exacerbated one thousand percent. Now raging rivers disappear into misty lakes that cut sharply into sheer, jagged mountains, themselves seemingly swept away by never-ending ghost trains of steaming, morphing cloud.

Then the “Roaring 40s” hit. Squalls launch out of the button grass plain punching you hard in the side. They breach the forest flanks, pulling the crowns together over the road centre, before the whole lot disappears behind an icy curtain of torrential rain. When it parts again, leaves, debris and smooth ribbons of red mud have reclaimed the tarmac.

Near perfect conditions, for a good long ride.

There’s no doubt that, for me at least, riding is a critical part of my personal wellbeing maintenance regime. And for the most therapeutic kind of helmet head I find myself strongly recommending riding out in the most atrocious conditions one can find (actually, in this age of litigation I shouldn’t recommend it at all, but what the hell, I do).

How is it Stringer, that a ride where we experience unpredictable hardness, difficulty and even prolonged and extreme discomfort can result in a mind free from trouble? So I went for my ride in some pretty shocking weather to think about this, and of course didn’t thereafter think about it at all.

That’s because given the conditions, I was paying too much attention to what was happening just in front of me. The line I was anticipating riding through in less than a second seemed, oddly enough, to hold my attention as an area of some importance.

And it wasn’t alone. Vying also for my attention were changes in road surface type and quality, that odd camber, those corner corrugations, that debris, some ‘shiny’ bitumen, colourful oils, closing radii, oncoming vehicles, upcoming roadside vegetation (for crosswinds). You get the idea.

But when you combine that with a page full of local weather warnings there isn’t much time left for big picture problems. My mind was busy. So busy in fact it eventually forgot what it as doing and just did it.

My point (yes, finally) is the additional leverage provided by inclement weather resulted in a deeper, meditative kind of concentration. But that’s not all.

It’s like those few hours have given my brain a powerful short course in problem solving. It’s been intensively trained in a process to pick off those little challenges, keep making progress, and leave the bigger stuff it can’t resolve to eventually blow away in the wind.

Thing is, it doesn’t last. Though I reckon if I rode enough I could get it hardwired. But you know how it is: The weather never stays bad enough, for long enough, for a really good ride.


Dr Kyril Mondragon

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