The best seat on the road
At 80 miles per hour on a motorcycle, you feel the elements literally shudder through you. The wind finds a way to seep into your nose, snake its way down your jacket and sweatshirt, and dance on your chest. There isn’t room in the rear view mirror to search for the immediate past or for answers as to what you did—or should have done—two weeks ago—just enough to catch glimpses of your hair flapping wildly behind you. And when you find your thoughts drifting, even for a moment, the motorcycle lurches forward, and you’re forced to be back in the present.
On a motorcycle, you feel nature in all its beastly and awesome glory. The wind boxes you in the face, shrieks and hisses in your ear, wrestles with the sunglasses clamped around your eyes, and tugs at the helmet on your head.
But, for every harsh offering, nature also provides plenty of bounty to soothe the senses. When’s the last time your nose had the simple pleasure of smelling hundreds of trees—of all kinds—and flowers, and even the dusty road at once? Or your eyes the pleasure of seeing the wide expanse of the ocean glisten underneath a sun that generously pours its rays onto it?
Of course it’s not all postcard images and Monet paintings. Occasionally you’ll witness that familiar Microsoft building on Hwy 101 you’ve driven past a thousand times and in the midst of a traffic stall, you’ll notice the mundane details that you’d normally not pay attention to in a car, like the snaking of a steel barrier separating the road from brush, or the way other drivers clutch their steeling wheel. Some of you guys really need to ease up on that grip.
At one point I thought about Jason Silva’s video on the topic of awe and banality. Silva is a “performance philosopher” who makes short, inspirational videos called “Shots of Awe” that he posts to his YouTube channel. In this episode, Silva references a book called “The Wondering Brain.”
It says that one of the ways that we elicit wonder is by scrambling the self temporarily so that the world can seep in.
I thought about how relevant that felt while sitting in the passenger seat of the motorcycle. The reason I was enjoying this experience so much is because my brain was scrambling to create a new map out of the one I’ve been using my whole life. The sights were the same, and the routes hadn’t changed, but I wasn’t seeing them from behind metal and glass. I was completely immersed.
Riding in a motorcycle will do that to you, and you can’t help but be present in the moment, because all your senses are engaged at once.
When we first took to the road, the fear that I’d be snatched up and swallowed by the wind eventually gave way to exhilaration, sprinkled with many moments of utter awe at all the things my eyes tend to glaze over on my commutes. I reminded myself to breathe deeply and soak it all in, the vista points, the smell of gasoline, the sunshine, the hills, and the waft of suburban life. And I fell in love again with California, this place I’ve called home for almost 23 years.
I have to thank my dear friend, Dennis aka Dusty, for allowing me to have this experience of a lifetime yesterday. As his birthday present to me, he offered to take me riding along the peninsula with a stop at Alice’s Restaurant in Woodside for pancakes. How could anyone say no? Despite my apprehension, I knew I’d be crazy to turn down this opportunity. So off we went, for almost a full day of riding, sightseeing, and chowing down on pancakes in between. The only thing Dennis asked for in return is a favor that I write about my experience as a passenger, because he said he doesn’t really know what it feels like to be one. Dennis has been an avid rider for nine years now, but that part of his life has taken a backseat now that he’s a father of two adorable kids. So the fact that he came out of semi-retirement AND spent all this time with me is something that I don’t take lightly. Thanks for a great time, Dusty! And to answer your question, in short, I’d say being a passenger on a motorcycle is having the best seat on the road.