Over the years of practicing Tai Chi I have learned to move in certain ways and to react naturally in different situations, both physically and energetically. I do this all the time in every day activities when it goes almost unnoticed, or if dealing with soreness and injuries, when I use my knowledge of how the body works more consciously. But now, as I approach the first hour of my journey, there is nothing I can do to relieve my aching back, except having a break. This is the best thing to do right now, especially as I know that I have another two hours to go – way longer than what I am comfortable traveling on a scooter.
I had been waiting for this day for several months, ever since I had booked my flight. Finally it was happening. I was on my way to a small village near the border of Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo, going to find weapons made by local headhunting tribes. Just 150km one way, I can do that. It will be fun! I get to cruise through the jungle and enjoy a sense of adventure in a remote part of the world – or so I thought.
As soon as I hit the road at 7am I knew it would be a challenge. The main reason was the bike. Easily the worst scooter I had ever ridden. Every time I went over a slightly bigger bump on the road the front suspension would bottom out and notify me of this with a hard klonk that really didn’t feel nice on the arms. Very unpleasant, but manageable, I thought. Just engage the elbows and spread the shoulders at all times to get the force to travel through the arms to the back – sorted.
After my short break of stretching and jiggling my body, I’m back on the road. My extended spine is bouncing almost constantly as I navigate the patchwork of tarmac, trying to find the smoothest lines to ride without getting too close to overtaking vehicles or encountering the klonk too often. Just like in Tai Chi I control my motions by manipulating my centre of gravity. This internal control makes me tilt sideways, steering my old ride, causing me to lean through the corners and hug the curves of the road. Finding natural movement whilst doing something practical. This isn’t too bad! I was trying to stay positive.
It was overcast since I got up but now it also started to drizzle, so all of a sudden the road was full of mist, causing my visibility to reduce dramatically. The wet surface also made me realise that this bike was slightly slippery and lost grip when going over painted parts or larger contours of the road. At 70kmh (45mph) you really do not want to feel a bike slipping underneath you, even for micro seconds. It sucked. What I thought would be a relatively cruisey trip was turning to be an ordeal.
Now, halfway to my destination, my internal focus is just going through a loop so I won’t tense up too much. I keep stretching my lumbar region laterally to release the pressure from my lower back. Keeping my chin tucked in to keep my occiput open and helping me keep my focus straight ahead. Shoulderblades dropped and spread wide, chest slightly sunk in, I’m basically in a seated wuji posture, feeling my alignments, trying to go as fast as I can go without feeling unsafe or too tense. Why didn’t I just rent a car? At least I could be dry and see where I am going.
Eventually, the strain of the journey took over and my focus shifted to just surviving the bumps, the slipperiness and the other traffic. It wouldn’t be so bad if the ride I had was half decent, but this scooter fell under the category of ‘I really shouldn’t be doing this trip on this bike’. At least it wasn’t as bad as the first one the rental company gave – that one scraped the bottom every time I went over a speedbump. I thought the exhaust fell off when I just went around the block on that thing.
Even after stopping every 30km or so to stretch my legs, it seemed that the tension in my body was now a permanent fixture. I couldn’t release it as I went along anymore, the intensity of the journey was taking its toll. Spine straight, keep dropping the shoulders, eyes on the road and pray that the bike won’t let you down was all that went through my mind for the final hour. As the kilometres passed, distancing me further from the cat city Kuching in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, the weather dried up and thankfully I didn’t have to worry about the slipperiness anymore, only the occasional klonk, which by now didn’t bother me too much.
The scenery started to catch more of my attention now. Watching the mist rise over the rugged hills, with the only signs of life being this road and its traffic. Three hours one way is triple the time that I have ever done on a scooter, but this time I’m extra motivated. There is a purpose to this strain, a goal to be achieved and until that was complete, I would remain focussed on getting there safely.
Finally, I did. I had reached my destination. Now where are those swords??
Before we continue with Part II of this blog, I want to share five ways to make the most out of your roadtrip on a scooter:
- Get a good helmet. Not just one with decent padding, a visor is a must. Having one will make your ride so much more enjoyable and safer. It reduces the wind noise, which reduces the strain on your nerves and helps you see the road clearer, especially on misty road conditions, which is what I had to deal with, eventually having to go to a mechanic to get a visor put in..
- Bring munchies. Road trips are full of surprises. You never know what foodstalls you find along the way (the banana cheese chocolate stall I saw was intriguing), but you can’t leave things to chance. Bring your own snacks, preferably things that can fit in your pocket and you can nibble on along the way. I’m not promoting one-handed driving here, just for the record.
- Stop often! Even if it’s just to stretch your legs for 2 minutes, your tailbone will thank you for it! It also gives you the opportunity to take in the sights around you which you haven’t been able to do with your eyes fully in the road, right?!
- Dress warm. Even when the sun is shining the locals tend to ride with a long sleeve to avoid sunburn. When it’s a little cooler, make sure you have your layers on. I was riding with shorts, trousers, t-shirt, merino long sleeve and windproof jacket, and I was just about ok (apart from wishing I had shoes). Outside temperature might have been a nice 24C but on the scooter it felt like five degrees less.
- Know your limits. This is the most important point, especially if you are doing longer distances. Know how well you can handle traffic and adjust your awareness to this and the current road conditions. Know the limits of your bike, especially older rides. Don’t ride flat out as fast as you can, at least not all the time, but rather find the speed just below your max where you feel that your nerves are more relaxed. That way the trip might take a little longer, but it will be significantly less stressful on you.