Stop It! Right Now!

today's UPI column

So There I was...

On the freeway, close enough to the speed limit. Sunny spring day. Singing a song with my angels in the fabulous acoustics of the full-face helmet. The wind was singing along too, because it was warm enough that I had the face screen cracked half an inch for temperature moderation. Then the universe required that that I stop. Immediately.

The request came in the form of a bumblebee, which managed to defy the air stream flowing over my aerodynamic head and make a solid eye-level hit at 70 miles an hour and yet live. Groggy but not stunned, it crawled into the only opening available for safe haven, my slightly open face shield. I felt it on my upper lip. I swallowed a yell and willed my mouth shut. I gave a mighty snort to try and expel it. It buzzed angrily like a throttle twist on a Japanese speed bike. I pushed my visor full open – but the air coming in glued the bug to my face. I turned my head. It crawled up from my chin, over my lips and across my cheek, then up and over my ear and into my hair. There was more buzzing and thrashing up there as it unsuccessfully tried to escape.

At that point I pried my attention away from the bee and onto the road. I was in the middle lane of three; I needed to make a lane change and a prompt stop. I scanned ahead, behind, and to the side. I had lots of room. I signaled. I slowed, moved over, and slowed some more. I signaled, slowed and moved onto the shoulder. My back end fishtailed a little bit, when the bee made an especially angry protest and I reflexively stomped on my brakes, locking them for a second. I lightened up. I came to a swift but controlled stop on the gravel.

I used the kill switch on the engine and had the buckles off of my chinstrap in record time. Off with the helmet. Loose the long hair. Shake. The bee left. I had not been stung.

The bee lived by God’s own miracle. I lived because of a cool head and good habits. I ride with the intent of always keeping a good stopping distance between me and whatever is in front, and if possible, a similar space off my stern. A good stopping distance is that space which allows for a graceful, safe deceleration. Speed increases the need for space. Poking along – not much required. Cruising at what I call ‘God Speed,’ I like the length of two semi-trailers. For cagers (you people in cars) the “two-second rule” applies. Use any non-moving object as the mark and count two full seconds from the time the car in front of you passes it until you pass the mark.

I like to have more space than that, before and behind. Even though motorcycles have a distinct advantage over cars in the acceleration/deceleration department – this due to our smaller mass – I want as much space as I can have. Because life sometimes puts a bee in your bonnet.

Now, I know that those of you who drive in urban environments have a greater challenge with this. Other vehicles do not want you to have this space and will move into any space six inches larger than their cage. In California they will connects these spaces across three or four lanes and ‘surf.’ This increases your challenge, but the challenge to maintain the best possible safety bubble possible is still important.

And herein lies another spiritual lesson learned while riding. The spaces in your life are just as important as the objects. And you will need them at precisely the points where you will not have the time to pay attention to them. You have to build the habit of space into your life. Because you are going to have circumstances that stop you, suddenly, emotionally physically and spiritually. Some of them you may see coming, and have time to reduce your speed and lengthen your space. Others will hit you with no warning at all. And you are going to stop; the only question is how gracefully.

The more I do, the more grace space I need. One way I increase my space is by investing in people, not things. That way when something happens, I know I can count on grace from people whom I have graced. They cut me slack, they lend me a hand, and they make room for me in many ways.

I build in the habit of space in my life by protecting my bubble of alone time, of quiet time, of nourishing time with God. Most months these times feel like luxuries. But occasionally they are life-savers.

The most important part of creating appropriate space around me is just attending. Watching to see if there is something sneaking up on me. Adjusting my pace according to the traffic of my life. Not letting people steal my space. This observation and adjustment process keeps me awake, keeps me alive.

One day all of us are going to get that final red light, that ‘pavement ends ahead’ sign. It may come on suddenly, or we may see if coming for miles, but it will come. The end is not up to us, but how we do it is. We can go screeching into that end with our brakes locked and screaming, or we can execute a nice controlled stop. The way you have lived your life is going to determine how you die. I want to be able to pull over and hand the keys over with some dignity and grace.

Might as well practice stopping now.

GREAT post. Outstanding.

By the way, as a rider, you might appreciate this:

(No space after the ? when you paste it)
Peggy, this is perfectly timed! Thanks. I cannot think of anything more important when something first goes wrong on the bike than maintaining priorities and NOT making the next move a mistake. Glad you had your priorities straight!
So the point of this is, "riding a motorcycle can be fun?"

OK, I know that's not the point.

We don't have a pastor in our unprogrammed meeting. Maybe we could have an honorary one though. Maybe that could be you. Any way, a rubber ducky has appeared on the anntennae of my new-used Prius. So you're having an impact far and wide already!


Another Quaker Dave
boy, helmet cams have really made Uube fun, eh? Followed that link and watched deer crashes for quite a few minutes. It amazed me how many bikes stay up after the crash. Not too many deer though.

Dave C, the motorcycle illustrations I use tend to use are the "exciting" moments. Zen and the Art. has already been written. I have been rounding out my columns for UPi in anticipation of quitting at 100. At the moment I am finishing up ideas for motorcycles physics lessons. There will be one more next week.

As science teacher Raye could tell you, all the interesting physics experiments involes crashes or near crashes.

"shiny side up"
to which the answer is
"rubber side down!"

(I am going to be writing a bit soon about my take on pastoring.
stay tuned.)
Someone once told me that life is lived in the empty spaces. If you have a house and fill it floor to ceiling with furniture, then there is no room to live. We live in the emptiness around the things. The more emptiness, the more space to live.

Kind of like your empty spaces on the road. It's where you hold your life.
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