The Journey

High anxiety

There is still a sense of panic — something that builds up in me before and during a ride. It is multifaceted, hard to explain, and especially hard to justify. By that, I mean it’s not rational; it’s not the kind of anxiety that would make sense for a new rider.
There needs to be more of this.

It would be rational for a new rider to worry about safety or technique. There are a great deal of intuitive unknowns for a newish rider to adapt to, things to think about that will not be thought about once experience is gained. Several months ago, for example, Road Pickle adventurer Sash was struggling with basic turns. I doubt she ever thinks about these things at all now; they just happen. So, if I were riding along overthinking every right turn or too cautiously crawling away from stops, that would make sense.

And certainly it is true that I have a bad habit of second-guessing my approach speed on bends. But I know that skill will come before too long. Indeed, how could it not? I live in Wales: land of bendy roads. I am willing to bet there is not one single place in the whole of this country where a person can find a 1-mile stretch of road that is straight. Those Sturgis boys and girls would lose their minds in a place like this (1).
By and large, I don’t worry about this technical sort of stuff. I am aware that my lack of experience limits my abilities, I ride accordingly, and I don’t give it much more thought than that. Indeed, sometimes I think I may be a little too nonchalant. Such as the other day when I decided to adjust my socks while travelling 80 mph on the M4.
What I experience is something else, something akin to and perhaps somewhat explained by the strange social anxiety I’ve developed since moving to the UK. It is a sense of needing to run away and hide, of not wanting anyone to see me, of not being able to sit still because this place is not my own, this space is not mine to enjoy.
This is the experience of an immigrant, I think. Subtly, you feel over time that you have no protection, no rights, no solidity. Because over and over authority in its many forms demonstrates to you that it can do whatever it wants as far as you are concerned. Whether it’s the cop who stopped me a few years ago and gracelessly explained all the ways he could mess with me, the border agency that rejected my visa on the grounds of their not understanding the definition of just one word in my application (2), the motorcycle examiner who failed me because I touched a radio, the motorcycle insurer who suspiciously had me describe in detail the shed where I keep my motorcycle, and on and on, I am made to feel that anyone at any time can ruin me with little or no grounds.
Living away from the United States has made my U.S. citizenship the most precious thing in the world to me. But I digress. The point is that sometimes I feel anxious or downright paranoid. And I suppose if you look at it that way, it makes some sense that such feelings are heightened by my motorcycle.

The machine, after all, is the physical manifestation of my emotional reaction to that anxiety. Some incongruous and intangible entity makes me feel subjugated (2); a personal vehicle of any kind –– something that allows me to go where I want to go, when I want to go –– is an obvious means of fighting that. A motorcycle, with its design often not allowing for more than just a single user, and its ability to “escape” other vehicles via superior speed and manoeuvrability, is a particular declaration of one’s independence.

That anything, especially something so nebulous as this anxiety, might threaten that independence is likely to put me on edge. So, perhaps that’s really what I’m feeling/fearing: that They are going to come and take my bike away.

Certainly the fear of its being stolen is something I struggle to overcome when I’m out and about. The Honda CBF600 comes equipped with HISS immobiliser, of course, and I always set the steering lock. I also have a U lock that I run through the spokes, which would block the wheel from turning. And whenever possible, I chain the bike to something stationary, like a lamp post. But still I feel sickly uncomfortable when the bike is out of my sight. I would leave a newborn child unattended for longer than I’m willing to be away from the bike.

And perhaps it’s this which creates the panicked feeling that I must always keep moving. Don’t stop to enjoy the fields of rapeseed flowers, don’t relax at a cafe, don’t park at the beach to pull off your boots and wade into the ocean. Just go. Keep going. Don’t let anyone catch you. Don’t let anyone see you. Hide in your helmet, slip through the queues of traffic. Disappear.

What I long for is a sense of comfort, a sense of connection, that I am a fluid part of the Everything: the zen. Because one of the greatest beauties of being able to go where you want to go, when you want to go, is the peace of mind that comes from not having to go. I want to relax.

Perhaps this is my learning experience. Whereas some people have to learn how to ride –– mastering U turns and gear changes, etc. –– I’m struggling with the emotional/spiritual side of motorcycling. I’m having to learn how to not ride.

(1) If you’ve ever driven/ridden to Sturgis, SD, home of the one of the most famous bike rallies in the world, you probably know that the roads leading there are incredibly straight. There are points on I-90, approaching Sturgis from the east, where one can see down the road as much as 60 miles. The only bends are those that are government mandated –– coming every six miles so drivers don’t fall asleep.

(2) I appealed the decision and won. Partially, I think, because Jenn came along and started crying in the courtroom.

(3) OK, we’re tripping off into Crazy Land with this sort of talk. Let me stress that although I feel “lessened” (for lack of a better word) by many of the offices of the world around me I do not think there is any sort of conspiracy against me, or what have you. I’m just a nameless insignificant, made more insignificant in people’s eyes because I’m not from here.