Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Zen and the Art of Motorcyclist Maintenance

I wrote a while ago about back problems keeping me off the bike. A talk with my chiropractor convinced me the solution was to sell my V-Strom and get a cruiser. Well, the financial climate being what it is, that’s not going to happen. So I started thinking about other ways to deal with the situation.

I did some research on the web and found a number of exercises designed to help torn back muscles heal, and to help weak ones get stronger. The kind of injury I had was common among athletes, not just former motojournalists who had pushed the envelope to the point of tearing once too often.

I actually found this information several months ago, but hadn’t followed the exercise plan. Or rather, I had followed it too diligently. I got some weights and started using them every day. That, as it turned out, just created another problem. The pain got worse.

I know now that I overworked the injured muscles, and didn’t give them time to recover between workouts. So it was back to the chiropractor for a couple of lengths of something called Theraband, essentially a flat strip of stretchy rubber used for light, low-impact muscle and joint rehabilitation.

I’ve been using it every other day—no more often than that—for about a month now, and the improvement has been remarkable. Not only are my arms and back stronger, I can ride farther without pain than I could six months ago, and I feel less fatigued at the end of the ride.

The point of all this is that I’m finally learning, at the ripe old age of 57, to take it easy on myself. It’s usually my tendency to charge straight at any problem with all guns blazing; that’s what got me through the injuries I sustained after the Willow Springs crash in 1986, and the car crash of 2006. I was a rehab fiend both times, and my reward was the astonished look on the faces of several doctors at how fast I bounced back.

But some problems can’t be solved by full-frontal assaults. You have to creep up on them, and nail them when they aren’t looking, especially at my age. You’ve heard that saying about how “old age and cunning beats youth and enthusiasm”? It’s true.

There’s also a bit of Zen going on here. As a freelance writer, I’m always looking ahead—to the next story, the next interview, the next paycheck. The now tends to get lost in the concern over the later. In my imperfect understanding of Zen, however, the now is all there is; the past is gone, and the future isn’t here yet, and when it arrives, it’s the now.

Lately I’ve been working on being mindful of what’s going on right now. When I ride, I try to think about how the ride is going right now, and not about how much it’ll suck if my back starts to hurt; that hasn’t happened yet, and it might not happen at all. And if it does there’s not much I can do about it anyway—why let it affect what’s happening now?

So I’m keeping the V-Strom. I have it set up just the way I want it, it’s paid for—a huge plus for any bike—and the Sargent seat, well-shaped but originally pretty firm, has finally broken in completely. Either that, or I have permanent nerve damage in my ass.

I’m even thinking of taking another trip to Canada before the summer is out, this time on the bike instead of in the car. When I first entertained the idea, I immediately thought, What if my back starts hurting? What if the bike breaks down? What if...?

Then I stopped, took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and thought, What if it’s the best ride ever?


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