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A Metaphor for Life

Posted By Carol L. Hunter PhD, PMHCNS, CNP, Wednesday, September 7, 2016

You’ve probably heard of a book entitled, “The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” a philosophical journey into the heart and mind of one exceptionally bright but plagued individual. I first read it back in the 80s after I got my first motorcycle. At the time, it was far too advanced for my wondering mind and I just couldn’t make any sense out of it. I never made it to the end. Recently I reread it from beginning to end and I suppose I just needed more maturity to grasp its most important message: motorcycle maintenance is simply a metaphor for life; an endeavor to attend to, care about, and keep our own engines running smoothly. A worthy task that demands constant attention and effort produces the best results. Why did I reread it? Of course, I read it for the challenge, in that it is not the easiest book to absorb. 

But there was another reason; I was gearing up to buy another motorcycle after not having ridden for 29 years. Reactions of friends and family were interesting to say the least. My children were not thrilled with the idea for obvious reasons, but my therapist was thrilled that her client was taking on that next challenge. Who in their right mind takes on the danger game at this stage of life? This is a question I had to ask myself, but for me, the answer was easy. I’ve always been a risk taker and I dare to declare that with its sometimes negative connotations. But if you look closely, you will find that risk takers are actually very careful and very serious about the risks they take. First of all, they learn everything they can about the job ahead to insure full understanding. Back in the 80s, I attended the motorcycle safety course at the police academy; this time I completed the course with the motorcycle safety foundation. I had an excellent instructor and learned more this time than I did previously. Knowledge may be the first step but preparation is the second. When it comes to motorcycle safety, conspicuity is an important element. The brighter the bike and the clothing, the easier it will be for drivers to see you and that is extremely important because most motorcycle accidents are due to not being seen in time.  Reflective strips are helpful when riding in the dark.

Everything seemed to proceed smoothly. I chose my beautiful new red cruiser and gave it a name: Reno. And then Reno sat in my garage and sat and sat and…….. Was I ever going to venture out on the road? I started having dreams about my riding and some were not so pleasant. I obsessed about traffic patterns and how I could find back roads to take to work. I wondered where I could practice without worrying about traffic. In short, I was losing my courage and was filled with self-doubt and dread. A friend from work said he’d go riding with me and we planned a trip to see some petroglyphs along the way, but two weekends went by and he didn’t call. Was it because I was a newbie? He later assured me that was not the case and we are scheduled for our ride soon. It’s a lot more fun to ride with others, especially in the beginning when you are building up your courage.

And so the day of reckoning came and without thinking much about it, I dressed for the occasion. I put the dogs inside; I opened the gate; I backed out of the garage in neutral and then I started the engine. It sputtered and loudly objected but I persisted and within five minutes, Reno was purring like a kitten. With a few good deep breaths, I found the friction point and was off in first and soon an upshift into second. I was on my way. The first road I had to ride had fast speeds and I had to accelerate quickly; I was surprised by the force of the wind. I turned off onto a side road and headed to the rural campus of our university where I hoped to practice my maneuvers. Once I started to relax, I could smell the freshly cut alfalfa and smell who was cooking tortillas for breakfast. I heard the roosters crowing and the donkeys braying; I was exhilarated and knew why I was where I was.

I turned off onto the campus road and there was no one in sight.  I followed the road around the perimeter until I came to a large parking lot with some barriers at each end. Perfect! I started and stopped; went around curves, did my U-turns, did my emergency stops and swerves. I wasn’t as smooth as I wanted to be but I wasn’t half bad and only killed the engine once! It was getting hot and time to head for home. I walked into the house with a big smile on my face and was feeling very proud of myself. I did it; I took the first step all by myself with no one to hold my hand. Yes, I think this can be fun if I 1) never get complacent and am always alert; 2) do my T-CLOCS prior to the ride and make sure Reno is in good shape; 3) realize that life is fragile and can end in a heartbeat, no matter how experienced you are; 4) make sure I am in good shape and not tired or distracted.  Motorcycle madness? Some may think so but I must concur with Robert Pirsig; it is the pursuit of excellence and caring and OK, throw in a little exhilaration!

Sometimes it’s difficult to make a seamless transition from blog to recipe and this is one of those times. Does any recipe come to mind when discussing motorcycles? I can’t think of any but it does remind me of the concept of persistence: getting something right after lots of practice. Some months ago I offered a recipe for a berry tart and today I am repeating that since I found fresh Colorado peaches in the co-op this past week.  I haven’t tasted it yet, but it sure smells good cooking in the oven!

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