Last week I trained for three days at the BMW Performance Center.  The thunderstorms began hours before I awoke for the off-road program and the forecast called for rain throughout the day. While this might not seem like ideal training conditions, as the African proverb reminds us,  smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.

I embedded a video of my three days at the end of this post.

Life lessons from the mud

This next paragraph tells you everything you need to know about motorcycling to follow the life lessons I learned, even if you don’t operate a motorcycle.

Stay above it all. The best way to ride a motorcycle through uneven terrain is standing on the pegs instead of sitting on the seat. The idea is to stay attached to the bike as it moves UNDER you.  From this standing position you can steer the bike by shifting your weight from side to side and guiding it with your knees; you can absorb shocks with your ankles, knees and hips; the seat can’t buck you off when it hits a bump; and when the bike slips and slides, it does so UNDER you. “CAN” is the most important verb in this paragraph, as my many falls will attest.

If there’s an overarching theme to what I learned about life from that day in the mud, I’d characterize it as “detachment.” You’ll feel the bike slip on mud and fall into ruts, but if you ride well, you’ll keep the bike up and moving forward to safer ground.

Fighting the bike, over-correcting, and freezing into a rigid posture are sure ways to take a tumble off road and in life. As the Serenity Prayer reminds us, there are things we can change, things we can’t and knowing the difference is the key to success.

What about avoidance? It’s not a universally-appropriate response to motorcycling or to life.  Sure, some things are better avoided, but if you avoid every scary or challenging obstacle along the way you’ll live a pretty unfulfilled life.  I tried to avoid the ruts but I found the riding became much more dangerous when I did because the combination of slick clay and gravity usually pulled the bike into the them anyway.  Ruts form at the low point, so if you guide your bike to the ruts on the approach and balance on the pegs, you can’t slide any lower. Sure it’s tough riding in them, but it’s relatively easier.

Parenting tips, too

I learned to expect fishtailing and wobbling and to trust that the laws of physics would keep me upright. Parenting requires similar patience and trust; you have to trust that the values you raised your children with with will keep them aright.

Like children, water  may be deeper than is apparent to the eye. You don’t know for sure until you ford it.

If I had a formula for bypassing trouble, I would not pass it round.  Trouble creates a capacity to handle it.  I don’t embrace trouble; that’s as bad as treating it as an enemy.  But I do say meet it as a friend, for you’ll see a lot of it and had better be on speaking terms with it.  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

One final observation:  I wouldn’t have been as aggressive in my learning approach if I’d been worried about dropping my own bike. There’s a lesson in that, too — one akin to making omelettes from broken eggs. I’m grateful that the BMW Performance Center insisted we use their bikes and encouraged us to ride to learn. I was able to train on the G650GS, which is the same bike I have in my garage.