6/6/06

Loosey Goosey

I'm not proud to say this, but I almost never ride my motorcycle off pavement.

It's not for lack of trying, really... there just isn't a whole lot of dirt near my house, and I'm not sure where to find trails, and I never learned how, and I got nobody to ride with, and my bike's big and heavy, and blah blah excuse excuse excuse.

But there is a new neighborhood being built.

It's about five minutes from where I live, and it's in that stage where they've paved the main street that winds around the neighborhood and graded all the soil where the houses will be, leaving a fairly flat, sprawling expanse of bumpy future lawns. It's not the Paris-Dakar rally or anything, but it'll work.

*****

On my way home last night, I took Bluff Road south to the Thompson Road turn-off, waited for the dwindling rush hour traffic to break, and veered off the asphalt into the grass. There was a little access path for the construction equipment, and I followed that.

On the street, you never want to feel the bike slip. If the two little patches where rubber meets concrete aren't exactly lined up with your direction of travel, you have what advanced riders refer to as a moment of sphincter-clenching. You may recall my minor episode in the intersection a couple weeks ago.

But on dirt, it's okay. It's kind of floaty underneath you, the sensation... letting the shocks absorb and the tires drift a little, this way, that way. The bike moves in your hands, and you move above it.

You point yourself where you'd like to go approximately, and approximately you get there. "A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving."

Bounding over the bulldozer tracks, the back wheel slips slightly sideways, but if you roll off the throttle it pulls back into line. The curvature of the front tire eases down into ruts, and easily ascends back up out of them.

You feel yourself giving it a little more gas, slipping the clutch a little more each time, glancing over your shoulder to see if there are any mini-clouds puffing up in your wake. There are.

The bike moves forward and the dirt moves behind you. You see an open area and dart across the field toward it. Your grip is loose on the handlebars, knees bent as you stand on the pegs, head up.

There is space between you and the seat, between the wheels and the path... a distance where placement is not precise, not defined, just a range of wandering in which a wobble or a slight veering is nothing to worry about... you slip... and catch yourself... and slip... and adjust, gently correcting, reconnecting... again and again.

You know that gap? That gray area of uncertainty where inputs and outputs don't necessarily line up? Where little surprises teach you to cope and accommodate, instead of always trying to control and restrict?

There's a word for that gap. And there in the dirt lot last night, swooping around in big, dusty arcs on my bike, I remembered what they call it:

"Play."

2 comments:

MadFlyTom said...

I'll ride with you, Colin...if you ever get the urge to hit the trails. That's the only kind of motorcycling I've ever done.

Check out http://www.atvpathfinder.com/trails.cfm?region=United%20States&location=Indiana

All kinds of places to ride trails, MX, whatever your little heart desires.

I'd like to get my XR600R out in the mud this year...

Colin said...

Thanks for the tip, and the offer! My KLR has pretty street-oriented tires, but I'd love to give it a go. It's already been tipped over a couple times in its life, so that's out of the way...