Motorcycling is Mindfulness

“An hour on the bike is better than an hour with a therapist.”

-Unknown

A lot of us have heard or repeated this quote, but what does it mean? How many of us have actually experienced both the therapist and the knees in the breeze and can talk about the differences? I have, and it took me more than 20 years to figure it out. I’m a slow learner.

An hour on the bike is better, that’s true, but why is it true? We do our thinking on the motorcycle, we feel at peace afterwards, we crave this peace at the first sign of trouble. We miss this peace all winter.

We all kind of know what that quote means. It resonates with us. The simple pleasures of sunshine and the visceral experience of watching the asphalt go by are amazing, the feeling of wind on your body letting you know that time (and miles) have gone by. The feeling of rolling down a street you might have been down a thousand times in your cage, but it’s so much more real and immediate without anything between you and it. The smell of fresh cut grass that you wouldn’t have gotten with the windows rolled up. The sound of people talking on the sidewalk. A feeling of being in the world and not simply going through it.

For some of this, science is starting to come up with “the why”. Humans were meant to see green and blue and brown and thrive in an environment that looks nothing like the cubicles or assembly lines many of us work in; even our houses most likely clash with nature. Why do you think log cabins remain popular? Think about the difference between a primitive shelter or a tepee or a log cabin and your house: when you look around do you see a lot of wood grain and natural colors or a lot of linoleum and carpet and drywall? Why do you think hardwood floors and ceramic tile are so expensive and sought after? Why do you think a log cabin is so romanticized and sought after? We want to be comfortable, but we also want to see the colors and textures and feel the sensations that our ancestors did.

So, no matter what else happens or whatever we figure out about our grey matter, outside-y things are good for us. Still, being on two wheels is unlike anything else and there must be a reason for it.

The reason is that motorcycling is mindfulness.

Mindfulness

Mull that over. Can you drift off into inattention the way you can in a car? No. Are you alone with your own thoughts? Yes. Do you continually feel the wind on your face, the sun on your skin, your knees in the breeze? Yes. Do you notice sensations like smell and sound in ways you would not in a car? Yes. Thoughts and sensations are the contents of consciousness. The simplest action, such as stopping at a stop sign, takes on a significance that’s missing from many of our experiences. You don’t just press the stop button, you coordinate your front and rear brakes, downshift, allow the weight of the bike to lean ever so slightly to the left as your right foot remains on the brake, your left hand pulls the clutch, your left foot holds you up. You are present, moment by moment. The felt presence of immediate experience. Existing “now” in simple actions and the thoughts that gave life to those actions is surprising pleasing.

So why does that basic shit matter? Because it’s your life going by moment by moment, and that used to matter. So many of our experiences in the digitally-assisted world remove us from one, two, or all of the steps and experiences that used to keep us anchored to the moment, to our life. When you ask Alexa to add eggs to your shopping list, your are robbing yourself of context and experience. You perform an action without seeing what else is on your list, without thinking of the meals you’ll make with your family.

In addition to proper mindfulness, this is why the excitement and challenge of packing for a long trip has always made me feel happy and at peace.

When you have to pack your saddlebags and back pack for a 4 day trip, you are forced to remember that Amazon Prime won’t help you on the side of the road if you have to take shelter from a storm.

When you throw some beef jerky in your jacket, you are forced to remember that the things necessary for human life don’t magically appear when needed, and humans took over the planet because of our ability to think ahead and change our environment to suit us. Yet, we did it without a moment-to-moment anxiety storm that rendered us unable to act.

When you have to put on sunscreen at every gas stop, you are reminded that “the Earth” doesn’t give a shit if you live or die and keeping breathing only happens if you are ever vigilant.

When you carry a fix-a-flat kit because you know you’re buddy’s back tire is about to go, you are reminded that humans only took over the planet because we were more powerful in communities.

I have, at various points in my life, been prescribed pharmaceuticals or self-medicated with chemicals. That means: things my doctor prescribed me and over-the-counter drugs like “enough bourbon to not have to feel any emotions tonight”. I have sat with a PhD psychologist who tried to help me figure out my issues. You know what? I will never touch psycho-cocktails again, and I consume in moderation in favor of the only thing that’s actually maintainable and works. There’s a place for the head-shrinkers as we used to call it, but I’ve busted my ass getting to a place where I can look within and find answers on my own.

I meditate every day. Right now I’m on a 420-something day streak. I leave reminders for myself at work in subtle ways. The reminders say “Stop and breathe”. You have to learn the difference between things you think are relaxing and great because they are better than work/chores/screaming kids and the things that are therapeutic because they are allowing you to be mindful.

Mindfulness is Good for You

The health effects of mindfulness are hard to overstate. This is not hippie bullshit, this is what the hard sciences have to say:

  • Reduced rumination ( affects depression and generally stewing on things)
  • Stress reduction
  • Boosts working memory
  • Boosts Focus
  • Less emotional reactivity
  • More cognitive flexibility
  • Relationship satisfaction
  • Many other bonuses…

Head on over to a page maintained by the American Psychological Association to read more about the specifics of these benefits. Take a look through that list again. How many people are living on chemical cocktails with the hope of getting some of those benefits?

We all like to read things that we already agree with. Many of us have made the argument to an impatient wife or girlfriend that we had to ride to work through something or quiet our mind to the point where the stress of the work week is no longer haunting us.

This is Two Wheeled Thoughts

Once you understand mindfulness, and how motorcycling is mindfulness, it makes all of your time on two wheels even more valuable. Adding some simple breathing, reflection, visualizations, or resting awareness into a ride amplifies the effects.

You’ll notice that there are experiences that naturally compliment this two-wheeled mindfulness. Experiences like camping, sitting down on a vista and appreciating nature, enjoying primitive cooking. Talking to people all night without iPads or Netflix in sight. Having great moments that you don’t instantly put on social media because you understand breaking out of that flow to get “internet attention” would defile the experience. Simply understanding that a great experience can be cheapened in the rush to instagram it is a huge leap forward.

This is Two Wheeled Thoughts. I rode for 20 years on and off before I began to understand the why of it all. This is what this site is all about. I don’t just throw this shit in people’s faces: a Saturday poker run is not the place to get on a soap box about examining the contents of consciousness and changing our relationship with anxiety or grief.  I am slowly doing the work though, I have a small circle of disciples and like-minded leaders that expands a little bit each year. If you come on a cross country trip or go motorcycle camping with me, you’ll wind up in front of a fire and we’ll be talking about things, getting real. You’ll wind up eating food I cooked over an open fire and taking a hit off my bourbon flask. Every year there’s a couple more people I convince to give me a few days of their time, and afterwards they get it. I hope they go on to show others. I am no guru, just a fellow traveler, and I try to show others that there’s something worth exploring here.

Motorcycling is not a “sport”, or a means of transportation, it’s a brotherhood and a way of life.

– David “Chubby” Charlebois, Executive Director ABATE of Wisconsin

You’ll find yourself at work, months after the trip you took with me, and find that you heart hurts horribly with the need for an experience like this. You’ll look at a calendar, the snow on the ground, and despair at how much calendar-space stands between you and the next chance to taste reality in a different way. To get you through it, practice mindfulness formally.

Motorcycling is mindfulness. You know what to do: go get healthy.

The Biker with the Electric Car

I haven’t been following the Harley LiveWire much, nor any of the other electric motorcycle options. Why?

Because I’ve been following electric car development for just over 10 years, I know where battery tech and the electric charging experience is at, and I’ve had experience with a Tesla Model 3 for a while now.

Story time: I recently attended a board of directors meeting for ABATE of Wisconsin in Wisconsin Rapids. Given the cold weather (more on this later) that meant a single charge (310 miles under ideal conditions) wouldn’t do it round trip. A stop at a Supercharger in Oshkosh on both legs of the trip was in order. Some quick facts based on the state of battery & charge in 2018:

  • Lithium Ion battery tech at this level does not last as long if you fully charge & discharge it every time. The suggestion is no more than 80% charge for daily community, only 100% for road trips.
  • On a NEMA 15-50 (dryer outlet) at home, you’ll recharge around 30 miles per hour of charge.
  • On a standard 10 amp/110 volt circuit, you’ll charge 1-2 miles per hour of charge.
  • Going faster and accelerating quickly uses a lot more juice. This is true of gas as well, but we tend not to think of it.
  • Cold weather decreases the range of lithium ion batteries for reasons we won’t explore here.

So, hitting the cruise control at 75mph at dawn when it’s 15 degrees outside meant the 80 mile trip to Oshkosh from my house took the battery down 120 miles of ‘range’. No worries, I pull into the Tesla Supercharge at Oshkosh and plug in. This is a specialized 80w circuit that piles in well over 100 miles per hour of charge. At least at first…

  • The closer you get to filling up a lithium ion battery, the slower it charges.

I’m able to nap a little bit, but I’m there for a lot more than an hour before I’m approaching full. Having seen what a lead foot did to my range, I slow down a bit and head to the Hotel Mead in Wisconsin Rapids and my ABATE meeting. There’s around 180 miles of range left as I park.

  • The battery will drain about 1% per day in ideal conditions, and more when it’s cold.

Sitting in the board meeting, I can see the battery range dropping. Quickly. It’s still between 15 and 20 degrees outside. 180 miles comes and goes… 170 miles comes and goes… 160 … range is dropping by the hour and visions of being towed back to Oshkosh are dancing in my head. I ask the hotel if I can plug in outside and someone graciously fetches me an extension cord. The bleeding stops, we have a great board meeting, and I drive home the next day.

I have good reasons for buying an electric car, but my two-wheeled freedom machine will be a gas-powered American V-twin for a long time to come.

Tesla has had 10 years at the breakneck Silicon Valley pace to build a nation-wide network of proprietary charging stations. The stations are meant to be able to get you “about anywhere” with their lowest range car, which is 200 miles. I don’t think anyone seriously thinks the LiveWire will have this kind of range, or that Harley will build a nationwide network of chargers. People who don’t realize how much tire inflation, wet roads, cargo weight, aerodynamics, acceleration, and hills affect their energy usage might be in for some difficult rides.

I ride to get away. In order to reach critical mass, companies are building electric infrastructure closest to where most people want to go most of the time. That’s the opposite of where I want to go on two wheels. I also stop in less than 200mile increments to stretch and sunscreen: adding in staggered charging station stops would make long trips painful. How fast will it charge? I don’t want to stop for a minimum of an hour every time.

For urban riders and those who primarily commute, electric bikes might be an option. I’ll be burning dead dinosaurs for a long time to come.

October Leaves in the Kettle Moraine

Wow, it’s been a very crazy month for The RoadRunner, and although I’ve been riding I’ve needed that riding for mental health and have not been writing about it. Don’t worry, I have a lot of words coming as weather cools off in Wisconsin.

As I wrote previously when riding to the Tomahawk Fall Rally, I’ve been appreciating the natural beauty of Wisconsin. Since Mrs. RoadRunner got me a GoPro Hero6 Black for my birthday last month, I’ve been experimenting with mounts and video modes, and I thought the fall leaves in the Kettle Moraine area of Wisconsin would be a great place to take some footage. Make sure you pick the highest video resolution, and watch this:

For a mount, I got the official GoPro suction mount. I hate the way the helmet mounts look (I reserve the right to still use one later) and with a fairing on a bagger handlebar mounts aren’t going to work easily. Once you put this mount on, you realize it’s not going anywhere. I may have… broken the speed limit a bit taking this video and the camera was super secure: rated for up to 155mph.

This was a short video but I hope to do more like this in the future. Enjoy and keep the shiny side up.

Breaking In New Boots

In 1995, I bought a pair of Doc Martens boots. Made in England, highest quality, and also a symbol of punk/goth/industrial music fans. This was a tremendous event in my circle of friends: $125 at that time is about a billion dollars today adjusted for inflation. Docs were known to be bulletproof footwear, and built to last forever, a true product of craftsmanship in a world that was already leaning towards cheap alternatives and short-term thinking.

By the end of the 2015 riding season, I had to admit that my Docs were dead. 20 years is not a bad run for your favorite footwear. It would be three years before I could bring myself to replace them. You see, they had succumbed to the pressures of globalization and started assembling their iconic boots overseas. Quality suffered. Their worldwide reputation suffered. Eventually they introduced the “Made in England” series which made it clear to the buyer that the craftsmanship and materials were the same ole same ole.

Interesting thing about breaking in boots: You break in boots by stressing and stretching the leather using your feet. The process works because the boots are made of dead leather, and your feet are made of living tissue. Your feet heal and come back to re-stress the leather. The leather does not heal, so eventually your feet win. It’s good to be alive.

Tomahawk Fall Ride 2018

On the morning of Saturday, September 15th, 2018 my buddy Corvus and I headed to the Tomahawk Fall Veterans Ride & Rally in Northern Wisconsin.

This event is well known in Wisconsin, but I had avoided this event for years. Firstly: big rallys are not precisely my thing. I ride to be mindful, to think, to smell the world anew with no metal cage in between. To be quiet, to see stars. 4,000 bikers descending on a town that’s home to 3,000 permanent residents is not my usual thing. I had also avoided the event because my Wisconsinites consider the event to mark the end of the riding season. This seems pretty lazy to me: warm weather is brief and precious in Wisconsin, but I also have leather chaps, heated gear, and a touring bike with a fairing. I don’t put the bike away until there’s salt and ice on the roads.

I needed to get away, and to see if there was any chance I’d enjoy the bigger rallies like Sturgis or Daytona Bike Week. So I gave Tomahawk a try and the most popular way to do it seemed to be camping at Bubba’s Big Party.

We Rode Up

Many states suffer from being identified primarily based on a small number of well known areas. New York state is known for New York City, yet get out into the country away from Manhattan and you are in a different universe. So it is with Wisconsin: I’ve lived here for more than 20 years and I think of this state as Milwaukee and Madison and maybe Port Washington. Riding through the North Woods in September, though, I am reminded that less than 200 miles from home lies a world of pine forests, hundreds of lakes, and close-knit tiny towns. Were you to parachute blindfolded into the woods surrounding Tomahawk you’d be forgiven if you guessed you were in Northern Canada, Iowa, or really any remote area.

As we ride North away from Lake Michigan where it’s just slightly cooler during the day (and much cooler at night) the trees have just started turning. Every shoreline is a postcard, or at least a Leinenkugel’s commercial. When I think about buying land to wait out the Zombie Apocalypse (which is totally going to happen), I always think about something a little warmer like Kentucky or North Carolina. Maybe I need to give WI a chance.

Bubba’s Big Party

We arrived at Bubba’s campground and it was an unseasonably warm 90 degrees. Once we found out where to buy wristbands for the party and camping it only took us a few minutes to set up camp. Bubba’s campground is 180 acres and we went to the very outskirts of what was already populated. It may look like we’re camping in the middle of nowhere, but over my shoulder is at least 80 acres of tents and campers of all sizes.

I have slightly augmented my camping gear since I last went motorcycle camping. I have added a Thermacell setup and a heavy tarp. The 20mil 6’x8′ tarp is meant to both cover my tent & sleeping back on the bike but also serve as extra protection above or below in a real rain storm. The thermacell setup is a butane + neurotoxin setup that keeps mosquitoes away from you in a 15′ sphere but is not food safe since it’s blasting chemicals into the air. A 20mil tarp is pretty thick and does not fold easily but after a couple of tries I got my tent and sleeping bag neatly wrapped up in it. Add some Rock Straps to that and my bagger became a camper no problem.

TarpRockStraps
I can’t say enough good about Rock Straps, and man am I spoiled by the amount of bag storage in my Victory Cross Country.

CampSite

Riding Around

Anyone who’s ever ridden with me knows I’m likely to get us lost. I ride to lose myself which is both a good and a bad thing. Good: sometimes we accidentally find cool shit. Bad: I space out, I miss turns, and with no visual GPS I generally make a mess of things. I had a chance to consider the performance of Corvus’ new 2019 Ultra Limited with the new 114ci Milwaukee Eight in it. Damn, I need to ride one. We sat down at a bar half an hour away in some random direction (West?) and after hanging out a while decided it was time for food.

LaRosas
A bar… somewhere…

We sat down at The Thirsty Giraffe because we’d passed it before and “Ribs, broasted chicken, and prime rib” sounded really good. You can also tell from the road that it’s on a little lake and there was seating out back. Northern Wisconsin in September can really be amazing.

ThirstyGiraffeFront

BackofThirstyGiraffe
The view from the back deck of The Thirsty Giraffe.

We had a great meal here, especially the broasted chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy. After a meal we checked out the vendors on site at Bubba’s, but I wanted a patch and they were out, so we headed downtown…

Downtown

Having mostly done research online and word of mouth, I thought Bubbas party was the Tomahawk rally. Uhm, no. There are plenty of private parties during this event, and by all accounts the private parties are the way to stay, but the rally proper is downtown. If you’ve seen one Midwest Rally I suppose you’ve seen them all, but I never get tired of rows of bikes and live music. You can’t beat Northern Wisconsin prices either. Where else can you get get two cans of beer for $5 ?

If you’ve read anything I’ve written before, you know I try to collect a patch from every trip away from home. It took looking at quite a few vendors to find a Tomahawk 2018 patch and luckily they were also sewing them on there, so I didn’t need to do a drunken sewing job. Corvis decided he was going to start sewing memories on his vest that night. Despite being a life-long biker, he threaded his first mementos on that night.

Back to Bubba’s

We parked the bikes at the campground and headed to Bubba’s big tent. My music tastes are all over the place but I love live music so I had pre-determined I was going to have a good time at this party despite not being familiar with the bands (or so I thought).

The highlight of the night was a group called Little Texas. They were tearing it up, putting on a great old school country/rock show. When the lead singer said “Ok, now we’re going to play this song that was one of our first hits…” they rolled into something I somehow recognized. Sure enough, “What Might Have Been” is a song I grew up with. Wow! Just like you sometimes stumble onto a great watering hole when you get lost on the bike, I went to Tomahawk and stumbled onto a childhood memory from growing up in the South and absorbing my parents’ country music radio station. There was actually another band after Little Texas, and not that they weren’t good performers, but man it had to suck following this act.

I don’t put my bike away after the Tomahawk Fall Ride as many Wisconsinites do, but I’ll make this weekend every year I can swing it.

Heading Home

Since there were bikes coming and going at all hours of the night and I had a dozen cheap/watery beers I naturally didn’t sleep for shit since I was either woken up by baffles or pissing in the woods all night. We packed up fairly early and rode the 200-odd miles home. I came away with a new appreciation for the state I live in, and I got very nostalgic looking at the back of my vest at the Tomahawk 2018 patch I’d had sewed on the night before. I started riding in the late 90’s but I’ve only been collecting patches for a few years; I look at this vest and realize “Holy shit, that’s a lot of fun.” Each patch is a memory that helps me through the cold Wisconsin winters. I’ve got it good, and if things keep going on as they have been I’ll be able to look back and not be ashamed that my life lacked adventure. Get out there and get after it.

VestTomahawk2018

Riding After a Vasectomy

With two healthy children that we love, a newfound Joy of sleeping in on the weekends, and being able to go out for a date night, my wife and I wanted to make sure we didn’t have more kids. there are, of course, quite a few options for achieving that goal with extremely high chances of success. My sense of Honor guided me in this direction and my wife agreed. if you’ve ever been involved in childbirth (in any way) then you know it’s very intense, takes a toll on your body, and is embarrassing and painful not only on the special day but for quite a while after that as well. I felt that here at last was something I could do that, while certainly not approaching childbirth in any of those aspects, was certainly going to be awful. Yes, you read that right: in a fucked up sort of way I did something I knew was going to make me miserable partly to show my wife that I’m a team player.

Medical specialists tend to be busy, so even though it would fall in riding season I booked the first day that worked: four months out. Having a line in the Sand made it far less likely that I would lose my nerve. As it turned out, we know someone our age have an Oops! right before my procedure, the exact thing we wanted to prevent.

What They Tell You

  • You’ll be wicked sore, in some pain, and should do nothing for 2-3 days
  • No lifting more than 20lbs for 10days
  • There will be bruising and swelling

What Can Really Happen

  • Bruising=The color will make you worried they are about to fall off
  • Pain: I had a lot more pain for a lot longer. Day 8 and I’m still hobbling around like a sneeze will be enough pain to knock me out.
  • Some people get complications that can last for weeks or months.

If you don’t heal on the schedule they give you (and I suspect far more men don’t than they let on) you’ll start having thoughts that you’ve made a huge mistake and you’ll never be normal again. Generally speaking, the euphemism of “getting snipped” makes everyone talk about it like it’s no big deal but you should prepare for getting surgery.

What’s the Pain Like and When is it All Better?

I wrote the above 20 days ago, not knowing what real recovery would look like. The pain is not like “blue balls” or anything you’re unfamiliar with, simply the exquisite pain of getting kicked in the junk.

  • It was 12 days before I felt I could safely do a push up.
  • It was 17 days before I could take BJJ class, and 25 days before I could fight.
  • It was 15 days before I felt like I could lift Red Sonya off the kickstand and see what riding felt like. I rode 300 miles that day and it was ok.
  • At 30 days it’s still not 100%, but I suspect I’ll be completely healed soon.

Keep in mind I went into this as a fairly fit dude. I’m not fragile and I’d like to think my training makes me pretty familiar with all kinds of pain.

I’m not trying to talk amny man out of doing this, but just to be aware that recovery may be quite a bit longer than the pamphlet they hand you says. If I had a more physical job I’d be completely fucked. Make sure to do the follow up, it’s nice not worrying.

So yea, count on 2-3 weeks out of the saddle if you do this, and remember that if you’re not totally healed just lifting your bike off the kickstand might be too much.