Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Anatomy of a Corner

Life at its best is never a straight road. Lived to its full potential, it is an adventure filled with corners, some difficult, some sharp, some long and some deceptive and dangerous. In my experience, it is like riding a motorcycle; each corner can be a rainbow of experiences. Let me share a 30 second verbal video.

Imagine one sunny afternoon you are riding your motorcycle beside a small but fast-flowing river along a smooth-surfaced two-lane highway. You are heading up hill into some low-lying mountains. There are no vehicles near you. Keeping your speed down to the posted limit of 65 mph is difficult. The powerful motor hums beneath your knees. Reined in by cruise control your highway stallion impatiently urges you to give rein to its mechanical muscles. Giving in to its yearning you grasp the throttle tighter and twist it counterclockwise to accelerate. Then you see it, the corner approaching some 200 yards away. Your heart starts beating faster and your senses come alive.

With the visual accuracy of an eagle spotting its prey from far away, you see that the road ahead narrows and swerves right. The river, rushing downhill in a somersaulting panic on one side seems to squeeze the ribbon of asphalt against a sheer rock face driven into the sky by some prehistoric shrug. Instantly you survey everything at once. Your body becomes a receptor of incredible capacity, simultaneously collecting and sending masses of sensory data to your brain. You drop your feet from resting on the highway pegs and place them firmly on the foot pegs under your hips for maximum balance. Your knees, now bent to 90 degrees, press in on the gas tank. A mental checklist of your bike's condition follows your question, "Is my bike ready?"
At 100 yards away the anticipated road sign reads: 45 mph. To an experienced biker that means it is safe under good conditions to make the corner at 65 mph. You do a mental, physical and emotional check first and ask yourself, "Am I up for this?" This is followed in split-second sequence by a scan of the road ahead: the arc and incline of the corner, absence of guardrails, the pavement free of gravel, tar strips, fallen rock, fresh oil or water, and no vehicles anywhere within your peripheral vision. Based on that feedback, you mentally calibrate your safe cornering speed and listen for the engine to match the desired speed. That speed is felt rather than calculated by looking at the speedometer.

Mentally you draw an arching line around the corner with laser-like precision; ideally it runs parallel to the centerline of highway. If all goes well, this trajectory will take you and your motorcycle through the curve and safely out the other side. You lean forward slightly, gripping the throttle firmly, leaving one finger extended over top of the front brake lever as a precaution. Now you anticipate the most critical element to make it through the corner; the lean of the bike. A motorcycle is not steered through a corner, it swoops around it like a plane. In fact, you are pushing down and left on the handlebar, effectively steering away from the right turn direction you would naturally want to go. This is necessary to bring the bike into balance between the opposing forces at play; gravity and centrifugal force. Leaning too far towards the corner or going too slow will result in being pulled into the rock face by gravity. Not leaning enough toward the corner or going too fast can push you off the chosen line into oncoming traffic or, worse, into the river.
Halfway around the corner you are at the point of no return. Whatever may lay ahead in your path may well be unavoidable: a football-sized rock, loose gravel sprayed onto the road from the shoulder, a stalled vehicle or a deer that insists on bounding in front of your speeding motorcycle are just a few of the possibilities. This corner, like every other one, demands hypersensitivity and must occupy 100% of your focused attention. Despite the potential perils, you accelerate slightly as you round the corner to maintain equilibrium between the changing forces at play. This has the effect of catapulting you forward like the last person hurled from a whirling line of skaters or a stone being flung from a sling. Your body feels fully alive as it tingles with exhilaration, as if the last 30 seconds is what you were made for.

Maybe we are made for corners. To some extent, around each bend in the road lies a mystery, a story yet to unfold. It is the corners of one's life that will fill the pages of one's biography. How well do we anticipate and prepare for each turn, deal with the stresses of each curve and, sometimes, just hang on around life's corners?
While Parkinson's disease is not a "corner" I would have chosen, there is a counterintuitive sense of significance to this bend in my life's highway. It is my hope that others facing PD, or other difficulties, will join me in declaring, "Let those corners keep coming!"

1 comment:

  1. We have to look at these corners or curves as a great challenge. I want to lean in and prepare for something great around the next turn, for what enjoyment would we find in stopping, putting our feet down, and never seeing the beautiful view coming!