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May 13th, 2013 by Warren Swil

Zen and the art of motorcycle riding

on busy Los Angeles area freeways

THERE IS ONLY one way to survive riding a motorcycle at 70 miles per hour on a crowded Los Angeles freeway in a formation with five other bikers on a glorious Sunday afternoon.
Give it total attention.
The singular focus required, moment to moment, is unparalleled. One’s very survival depends on it.
At times the cars speeding along in the fast lane – we, of course, may use the carpool lane – are only inches away. Auto drivers often don’t see motorcycles

Trip Oldfield dismounts from his Honda Fury 1800 in the parking off Lambert Road and Pointe Drive in Brea on Sunday afternoon. © SGE, Inc.

at 90 degrees to their line of sight. They meander all over their lanes, sometimes coming dangerously close to the bike’s right-hand rear-view mirror.
There are sudden stops, followed by equally sudden acceleration. Traffic jams are routine; then there’s debris on the pavement – loose stones are a particular hazard – and all the many distractions.
There is only one way to avoid death: constant, total and unwavering focus on the now!

THE MOMENT…and being able to see into the “future:” watching the tail lights four or five cars ahead to see if anyone is braking, looking for signal lights as a driver prepares to change lanes, and checking the pavement for hazards 100 yards ahead.
Thus it was on Sunday as about 20 riders covered the 84-mile course for the 16th annual AIDS Charity Ride (a ‘poker run’) and fundraiser sponsored by the Satyrs Motorcycle Club of Los Angeles.
It was “kickstands up” outside the Java Hut coffee shop on East Broadway in

The riders assemble for a formal portrait on the sidewalk outside Java Hut on East Broadway in Long Beach, CA, before departing Sunday morning on the 16th Annual AIDS Charity Ride sponsored by the Satyrs Motorcycle Club of Los Angeles. © SGE, Inc.

Long Beach, CA at about 11 a.m. After a painstakingly slow ride through the narrow streets of east Long Beach, we finally made it to Interstate 605; the coolness of the breeze at 70 m.p.h. was most welcome.
The first leg, perhaps 25 miles, was mostly freeway, and since it was before noon on Sunday, it was relatively uncrowded.
We exited on Beverly Bouelvard in Pico Rivera and, after the first of four stops for a poker card – five playing cards were picked from the deck by each rider, and the winning hand won a prize – we began the serious part of the journey.
Beverly Boulevard gradually narrows as it leaves suburbia for more undeveloped terrain.
Then it becomes Turnbull Canyon Road – a two-lane, winding, sometimes steep pass over the hills into Hacienda Heights.
Just the kind of challenge a biker loves!
Some of the curves can be safely negotiated at only 15 m.p.h. They are so tight, the rider has to lean as far into them as possible – without losing control.
I took one of these hairpins just a tad too fast – my right footrest was so close to the pavement, the heel of my boot scraped the surface.

Satyrs M/C Road Captain Bert Simon, left, who planned to entire ride, and I wait for the Blessing of the Bikes in the alley next to Pistons Bar in Long Beach, CA, on Sunday after our adventure. © SGE, Inc.

I freaked out. Any further over, and I would have been toast. I slowed down seriously for the next bend.
After our second, longer stop, we turned west and headed along Carbon Canyon Road – quite similar to Turnbull Canyon – back over the hills into Brea.
By now it was early afternoon.
The sun was baking down on us, and the shade in the parking lot just off E. Lambert Road at Pointe Drive, was welcome indeed.
Refreshed, the group headed back to Pistons Bar in Long Beach, taking the 57 Freeway south, then the soaring, inspiring car-pool lane flyover connecting it to the 91 Freeway west.
Discussing later the sensation of speeding through this awesome monument to Caltrans engineering at 60 m.p.h on a motorcycle, a group of us agreed it was “just like flying” without a plane!

Satyrs M/C President Riley Black signs up for one of the silent auction items on display at Pistons Bar after the ride on Sunday. All the money raised from the auction was donated to charity. © SGE, Inc.

IT WAS ALONG the 91 Freeway west that the title of this post came to mind. Sunday afternoon traffic was unlike that of a weekday – when it is so clogged the cars are moving at only 20 m.p.h.
The traffic – for Los Angeles – was medium to light. Average speed was about 70 m.p.h. Our group, now four riders, stuck to the car-pool lane. It was 20 miles or so of intense concentration.
The sun was shining into our eyes, at an angle approaching 60 degrees. There were times it was so bright riders could not see turn signals on cars, or the freeway overhead signs.
There is a certain safety in numbers when riding with a group in formation.
First, many auto drivers are intimidated; they see all these bright headlights in the rearview mirror, and instinctively pull over to the far side of their lane.
Second, the noise! Harley Davidsons are famous for their loudness (methinks the sound of a Harley is patented, or something; if it’s not, it should be). But when four or six bikes approach together, the sound is that much more deafening.
So, there are a few things on our side.
But there are many, many others that pose an existential threat.
It is those that require a focus so intent that it excludes all thoughts of past or future. There is not a moment to worry about what the boss is going to do to you tomorrow, or what your partner said to you in anger last night.
This, by the way, is not an original concept. It was first so eloquently expressed in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values,” a 1974  philosophical novel, the first of Robert M. Pirsig’s texts in which he explores the metaphysics of quality.
Being totally in the present is like some kind of drug high.
It is exhilarating, liberating, exciting.
That is why I keep riding.
And why so many others I know do so, also.

This post is dedicated to Scott Pickard, a wise and wonderful man, who describes himself as “open to the universe.”

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