I know all my rider friends out there are thinking “Well, duh!” at the title of this post. But humor me while I help our non-riding friends understand a little better why we do what we do. Especially the ones who think we’re bat-shit crazy for loving motorcycling the way we do in spite of the risk.
So let’s back up. We all know that sometimes we have to step away from something—a project, task, challenge, etc.—to regain perspective and come back to it with renewed vigor. It gives us the space to identify new approaches, overcome obstacles, and—most importantly—it frees up the bandwidth we need to keep going when we’re in the trenches working our asses off and we’re just damn tired. In other words, “pushing through” usually backfires as our effectiveness and motivation fall off the fatigue cliff. A little break can get us a lot further down the road.
It’s a pretty basic concept we all know really. Except when we forget.
You all know my life mindset is “keep moving forward.” And it might not surprise you that sometimes I actually push too hard at that. Like relentlessly hard. And it’s to my detriment, not benefit (insert another “well, duh” moment here) as I end up doing more harm than good by not shutting down the processors for a hot minute. Mistakes and misplaced energy abound when you’re in that place. At 50, I’m still working on honing that self-check. I’m still sometimes slow to recognize when I need to take at least a little break and remind myself I’ll be better off for it. Maybe I should tattoo “All work and no play makes Val a hot mess” on my forehead.
Which brings me to throttle therapy. Since becoming a motorcyclist, I’ve always known it was my mental salvation. Even so, I didn’t know how much it was until it wasn’t available. (Thanks to nomad-hood and a little thing called a pandemic, if you recall.)
Through all of that ordeal, I’ve come to a few realizations about why riding is so effective for me in activating the reset button, more so than other releases. Here’s my short list:
- Foremost, it forces the mental break in an absolute way. There’s no room to be distracted by niggling other thoughts. Riding requires your full attention. Your life depends on it. So all the noise that is normally sucking at the mental tit gets kicked to the curb for a short while. And your brain breathes a huge sigh of relief once given the chance.
- It forces you to step out of your bubble as well. It’s all well and good to sit down with some excellent knitting but you’re often still surrounded by the usual scenery and all the reminders of the tasks and projects you “should” be doing. As a dear friend of mine puts it, those things are still “squatting in the corner like a malevolent toad.” Paints quite the picture, doesn’t it? So while breaks of that nature require a certain amount of concentration, it’s not at the complete and non-negotiable level that piloting a motorcycle requires.
- When you’re on the bike, you can’t be interrupted or pulled back into the fray. The phone is on Do Not Disturb; no one can walk in and disrupt you. (PS rider friends—if you’re taking calls while riding, we need to have a serious talk.)
- You’re committed to a certain amount of time. Riding isn’t something you do for a five-minute break, so you actually give yourself some realistic time to decompress. Think of it as giving dopamine a chance to KO cortisol. If they’re only in the ring for one round, it’s probably not going to happen. But go nine rounds and the happy hormones will be bringing home the belt.
- The sensory input that is unlike anything else and gives your nervous system a wake up call. You can get back to work after a ride with the fire rekindled around all your little neurons. It could be said that something like a good hike offers a similar effect. Taking some time in nature certainly goes a long way towards decompression, but since it usually doesn’t require the exclusive concentration that riding does, your brain can still be working the problems in the background.
- It exercises split second decision-making and problem solving, flexing a different part of your brain than gets used in everyday life or slower-paced decompression activities. It’s like crossfit for cognitive function; i.e. it keeps the gray matter buff.
A lightness occurs when the ride is over and you realize you haven’t thought about all the crap that’s had your brained stuffed for so long. And an invigoration. It’s time to dig back in and tackle everything in front of you with all of your gusto, not just a shadow of it.
That’s the in-a-nutshell version of why riding is the prime way I step out of the pressure cooker. Other ways are good, and even great. But nothing compares to time in the saddle.
See you on the road! Keep the rubber side down.
PS – You can help me keep gas in the bike by picking up some of my groovy moto merch on t-shirts, hats, mugs, aprons, journals, etc. in the Sierra Mountain Passes shop on Redbubble. Thanks for your support!
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