Monday, May 17, 2010

Following the Painted Lines

double yellow painted line highwayHighway 38 twists for 18 miles up the San Bernardino Mountain Range on its way to Big Bear Lake. Turns to the right and turns to the left go on and on past pine trees and patches of snow still waiting to melt under the mid-Spring sun.

It's been a long cold winter that kept me off of Big Bear, and all I could remember about the 38 is all the fun I had riding it in the previous summer. Otherwise, I couldn't recall each specific curve, so it was like riding a new road again.

A long straight away up from Mentone and then a hard left switchback at Forest Falls sets the mood. I roll on the throttle and kick the ST back up to 5th and get into a zone.

The line bends to the right and I bend with it, and then it bends to the left and I bend with it again, almost like an ore cart rockin' and rolling' out of a silver mine.

honda st1300 highway 38
These days I've done a lot better to keep my head and eyes turned towards the road ahead, instead of keeping them fixed at the road in front of me. That's probably helped me more than anything in mastering the curves.

I would become so concerned about what's lying down at the road in front that I didn't pay attention to following the road up ahead. A fallen rock, a dead bunny, a patch of sand, a pot hole, anything would concern me. And since I didn't know what the road looked like up ahead, I naturally slowed down.

And now I don't even focus on any specific part of the road, per se. I turn my head towards the road up ahead and keep my eyes wide open and look at the entire periphery, from the guard rail to the left, to the guard rail to the right, not really focusing on anything in between. It's almost like staring blankly up ahead, and just following the painted lines.

riding a motorcycle fast through a curve
The painted lines, they stream by like a spool of thread on a supercharged sewing machine. Like watching a giant US flag slowly curling to the left and to the right in the breeze. It was like when I was a kid I would look out the back window of our van and stare at the rain grooves on the freeway. It's almost mesmerizing, but there's something automatic about that yellow line in that you can just follow it like railroad tracks and know that it's always going to point the way.

And then a dark splotch shows up on my radar and my eyes shift to see what it is. It's just a patch of new asphalt that CalTrans laid recently. Suddenly my concentration drops out of the zone, and I'm forced to slow down and reestablish my bearings again.

The trees, boulders and mountains all seem to be patches of color rushing past my peripheral vision, and in a way I'm not really absorbing the world through my eyes anymore. Instead, I hear the engine changing it's pitch, I feel the wind on my body, the scent of pine trees in the air, and the pavement's contour sending its footprint up through the suspension.

big splatter on windshield
Yet I'm still able to flush out the past week's rat race from my mind and reduce things down to just my senses.

That kind of simplicity becomes a welcome contrast to the clusterfucked layers of detail that get laid on top of each other and then interwoven to the point where they can't be undone but only walked away from and put on hiatus until we return again.

Sometimes I need to just follow lines laid down by someone else. There's a lot less responsibility and judgement that way. It's easier to follow something you can count on and know that it's going to keep you on the straight and narrow.


  1. Awesome post ... I have the same problem (keeping my head down, looking for road hazards, instead of keeping my head up and looking ahead), and yes, it does slow me down a lot on the curves. Great photos - how do you get such a low angle of the road? Where is the camera mounted on your bike? And great paragraph that compared life to layers of interwoven detail "that can be undone but only walked away from" ... or ridden away from, in our case.

  2. Ken, I'm just holding the camera with my hand down and away as low as I can while trying to steer through the curves.

  3. Well written, Steve. I identify with the feeling of escape from the random abuse of work-a-day life that riding a road which demands your attention provides.
    When I need to mindlessly follow along to unwind, I hook up with you on a long ride. In that way you are giving me a chance to just relax and ride.
    Thanks for all the miles.


About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)