This last weekend Matt and I had the opportunity to take a motorcycle ride up from SoCal to the Napa Valley for New Years. It had been a long time since I visited the valley and I was excited.
After getting all the appropriate clothing and accessories ready, I made sure to assess every part of my 2005 Kawasaki Z750S. I adjusted air pressure in the tires, tightened the battery and connections, checked the oil and fluids, lubed the chain, tested the headlamps and turn signals, checked the clutch and brakes and finally topped the bike up with gas.
I went all the way through my list and made sure I was set. Everything looked good. I put on my full riding gear, attached my magnetic tank bag to the bike, turned on my headphones and headed out onto the open road. A few hours later I met up with Matt and his wife and we were on our way. Everything was going perfectly.
Twenty-four hours later as we crested the summit of a country mountain road, my bike started making an awful noise. It was kind of a grinding, thumping sound that I had never heard before. Because I always listen to my headphones I don’t know exactly when the noise started. I do know that when I first noticed it we were roughly 500 miles from home.
One of the things I love most about riding motorcycles is how open and exposed the rider is. You can see everything. You feel the air temperature. You smell the grass and dirt and cherry blossoms. You hear the birds chirping and dogs barking. There’s nothing between you and the open environment except your helmet and your protective clothing. Unlike sitting in a car, a bike ride is an incredibly immersive experience.
The problem with that exposure is that if something suddenly happens you don’t have several feet of steel frame to protect you. A bad sound on a car will probably mean a minor inconvience; a bad sound on a motorcycle could mean serious injury. Or worse.
Trying not to panic, I signaled to my cousin and we found a private stretch of road where we could get off and analyze the bikes. I told Matt about the sound, wondering how screwed I actually was. He asked me a few questions, inspected the motorcycle and immediately noticed the drive chain was hanging several inches lower than normal.
“That loose chain is a problem,” he said. “We need to fix that.”
I could see he was right. What I couldn’t see was why the chain had lost tension in the first place. What was wrong with my bike? Was there a problem with the gears? Was the back tire coming loose? Was the chain going to break? I started to have visions of myself in a bloody, tangled wreck on the side of the road.
Matt told me to calm down which made me angry. I pointed out that he only had a handful of tools on his BMW and I only had a screwdriver on the Kawi. We didn’t have the equipment we needed to fix the chain. We were more than thirty miles from the nearest city and I was not at all sure my bike could go another three miles, much less thirty. Plus it was New Years’ Eve and shops would be closed. And even if somehow we managed to make it thirty miles to the nearest city and we could find a mechanic that was open and get the chain tightened again, we had no guarantee that it would fix the problem.
I was on the verge of freaking out.
Panic and Rabbit Holes
It was at this point Matt said something I will remember for as long as I live. He looked me dead in the eye and said “Don’t go down the rabbit hole, man.”
I told him I didn’t understand. What rabbit hole? Was he making a motorcycle reference? Or was it some kind of philosophical BS that was supposed to make me think positive?
“It’s an important concept,” my cousin explained. “Going down the rabbit hole means you’re no longer living in the real world. You’re in fantasyland. You can’t make rational decisions because the problems you’re dealing with aren’t real – they’re only in your mind.”
He pointed at the bike.
“You are stressing about things that haven’t happened and may never happen. The only thing we know for certain is that the chain is loose and we need to tighten it. That’s problem number one. Once we solve that issue then we can move on to problem two – if it even exists.”
Wow, talk about deep thoughts. Matt was absolutely right. I was worrying about problems five, seven, ten and fifteen instead of focusing on problem number one and getting that handled. Immediately, I started making connections to other areas of my life. At work, I often worry about things that may happen later in the week – but I could invest my energy in solving current challenges. I regularly look at my monthly finances and stress about the cost of events several weeks away – but I could focus on opportunities to make additional money or find new activities that would fit in my budget. The same thing was often true with my writing, my workouts, social situations….
The more I thought about it, the more I realized I had been living in the rabbit hole for a long time. It felt like a giant cartoon light bulb appeared over my head.
“Wow,” I said, still reeling from the insight. “You’re totally right. What do you think we should do first?”
He thought for a second and checked a few details on his phone.
“Okay,” he said. “Let’s head down the hill to the wineries. They’re only a few miles away and we’ll see how the bike is behaving. Worst case scenario if the chain breaks you’ll just lose power and you can coast to the side of the road. No matter what’s going on with the bike, we’ll enjoy our day today. Tomorrow morning there’s a WalMart near the hotel that opens at 6am. We can get some tools, fix the chain and then see how we’re doing from there. Sound good?”
His plan sounded awesome and so that’s exactly what we did. I drove my injured bike slowly down the hill, across the valley into both wineries and eventually back to the hotel thirty miles away. The Kawi made unhappy sounds the whole time but they were consistent sounds and they didn’t significantly affect the performance of the bike.
Bad Trip, Good Trip
What did significantly change was my weekend.
Before Matt helped me out of the rabbit hole, I was worried, scared and defeated. I was sure the bike repairs would probably cost several hundred dollars. I knew I would also have to take extra days off work (losing the pay from those days) plus the money for longer hotel stays and food. Worst of all, it felt like my vacation was ruined. I was stressing so much that I couldn’t enjoy the scenery, the food, the wine or the company.
After my cousin helped me to reframe, I consciously chose to focus on what I could control: My ability to appreciate the moment. And there were so many wonderful moments. We traveled up a gondola to Sterling Vineyards, a beautiful winery with incredible 360-degree views of the entire Napa valley. We visited the majestic Castillo De Amorosa winery, a huge Spanish-style castle that took over a decade to build. We drank world-class wines. We ate delicious food. We talked and laughed and hung out in one of the most beautiful places in the world. It was one of the best days I’ve had in a long time.
The next morning at WalMart we bought tools and tightened the chain but the horrible noises continued. It didn’t matter. I was no longer in the rabbit hole. After a further inspection of the chain, I found the problem: a few rusty links were binding together instead of moving freely. I had noticed a small amount of rust when I lubed the chain earlier but apparently I hadn’t noticed how bad it was. After a $5 treatment of Liquid Wrench in front of WalMart, the chain noise almost completely disappeared and the bike started to drive normally.
500 miles later we were all safely back in SoCal.
Out of the Rabbit Hole
That night as I was leaving to head to my house, I shook my cousin’s hand and he pulled me in for a hug.
“Thanks man,” I said. “Thanks for everything.”
I always enjoy seeing new things and making memories. Adventures and experiences enhance your life. But what I love most is an opportunity to learn a new philosophy. Adventures give you something to look forward to and look back on. A powerful philosophy can affect every minute of your day.
I realized my cousin had given me a great gift on this trip. Like Morpheus once did for Neo, Matt helped me begin my journey through the rabbit hole and back into reality. My new goal would be to focus all my energy on what I could do – and then go kick ass.
Matt gave me a big smile.
“You’re welcome cousin,” he said. “Safe ride.”
I turned my headphones back on, started up Five Finger Death Punch and hit the road. I had a feeling 2018 was going to be a good year.