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So far the weather has been great. No rain, sunny skies, no humidity, not too hot… I carry a big rain suite and rain boots in the back, waiting for the rain that is bound to come at some point on a five week trip.
Before leaving this morning I checked the weather forecast and realized that it’s going to be a very hot day, almost 95 degrees in the afternoon. Definitely no full-face helmet and no long sleeve jacket. I pulled out the black “shorty” helmet and the leather vest, put on some sunscreen, and headed down to I-95 Towards I-85. Tonight I’ll arrive at Chapel Hill, NC, where I will be interviewing Dr. Barbara Fredrickson. The ride is a little shy of 30o miles.
Sitting on the bike and cruising down the highway I am starting to feel a strange feeling of burden. The miles continue to pile and the road does not end. The knowledge that I am continuously getting farther away from my family is troubling me, and thoughts start to roam in my head. I-95 is loaded with huge trucks and each pass and lane switch is accompanied by turbulence and strong side winds. The constant attention that the highway demands, the heat, and the thoughts wear me off, and I pull over frequently to drink some water and rest.
I go back on the highway and put some music on, let Apple’s Genius mix surprise me with some classic rock. It turns out it’s eighties hour: Judas Priest, Scorpions, Ozzy… With the full-face helmet off I can hear the music rising above the roar of the engine and the sounds of the wind and the trucks. With the full jacket off, I feel the sun warm my skin, and the shorty helmet lets the the wind rush through my face. The road is long and never ending and I lose track of time. Suddenly I realize that I am singing along with the music at the top of my voice.
Time goes by and I notice that my mind is empty. All thoughts have been flushed away and the ride now synchronizes to the sound of the music, with the miles cycling in a way, as if rotating endlessly without going anywhere. I turn onto I-85 and the trucks are replaced with trees, bridges, and rivers. I turn the music off, and time now stands perfectly still, in a picturesque postcard that floods all five senses.
In his seminal work, the famous psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, (who I hope to talk to on my way) discovered a psychological state he calls “Flow”. Flow is achieved under conditions of high challenge levels, when practicing a task you are very skilled at. It’s an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, when the person is fully immersed in a task, things like hunger, ego, and time awareness disappear, and time “stands still”. Riding a motorcycle on a long haul trip is definitely a challenging task, and it may be that what I was experiencing riding down I-85 is indeed Flow.
Approaching Chapel Hill I thought about my experience on this steaming hot day. I took off the full jacket and the full helmet because of the heat. Peeling off the layers that are designed to protect me exposed my senses to the full experience of the road. I wonder if this is something we do all the time in our lives: wearing shields of protection around us that keep us safe from the hazards of the outside world, but in turn blocking and numbing our senses to the full experience. Over the years one moves to a house, buffered by land from the disturbance of neighbors. Defended from harm by airbags, and alarm systems, protected from embarrassment by social codes of conversation. These walls that keep us safe and comfortable also keep us isolated, and when protection is excessive, it could turn in to Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar. I believe that once in a while one needs to break out of the walls of protection, let go, and get a breath of truly fresh air. Air that is available only when you leave your comfort and safety zone and allow yourself to take risk.
No doubt, I am going to use that shorty helmet and the sleeveless vest much more…
Here is today’s video again. My thought of the day: once in a while break out and let go. Good things come to those who do it.