"Do you need any help?" Was the first thing I asked to the Women Rider's World Relay contact button on Facebook. It all then snowballed like crazy and led to some of the most incredible experiences and opportunities of my life. I had no idea that within four weeks I'd be taking a major role in planning and executing a ride across Italy with a bunch of beautiful, crazy, wild girls and having meetings that would change my life forever and launch me into a motor racing career.
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? It might well be because what I'm about to tell you feels utterly unreal.
I have just been accepted on to a race team as a pilot in a land speed world record attempt at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah in August during Speed Week. Yep. Me. Who only took up proper biking two years ago after becoming a grandmother. Who was afraid to go over 50mph on the motorway. Who nearly gave up in the pouring rain in Germany. How absurdly fantastical is that? Just like Burt Munro, immortalised in The World's Fastest Indian, whose land speed record still stands today, no-one would have believed two years ago the turn of events that would take me, of all people, to Bonneville with the big boys of racing. Yet, here I am and, as much as anything else can be real, this is my reality.
The ride is a beauty. A red-lipstick coloured, partially streamlined, 1000cc LPG powered bike (only LPG racer in the world), built by the great Dino Romano, one of Italy's foremost bike customisers, as part of the Eyes Open Dream Racing Team. Things like this don't happen to ordinary people like me, do they? It seems they do. How did this happen? Did I trip and fall into a vat of dream fluid?
The Welsh gods decided to give the mountains a break over the bank holiday and allowed the sun to shine on one of the most exciting weekends in the Welsh trail rider's calendar - the Taffy Drwg. Yes, I know it's an unpronounceable word and means nothing to those outside of the village but there's a reason for that. The all-weather trail-riding weekend in the Brecon Beacons used to be called the Taffy Dakar but some French lawyers for some reason thought that was confusing the orienteering event with it's beer-swilling, hog roast munching, bucking bronco antics for a rather more serious deal held in South America. If only they had bothered to come to Wales they may have been convinced otherwise. Drwg is of course pronounced 'Droog' and it's said this is a tongue in cheek reference to some strange weed that makes your head go all funny. But that's just hearsay, I've not had that confirmed by any Welshfolk to date. So what's this 'Droog' all about?
I love life and I love riding. No matter how much I love the latter, I love the former more. That's why I bought an air bag jacket, why I took my IAM and RosPA exams and why I continually give a shit about improving my riding and taking only those risks I'm comfortable with. I often check out riders much better than me and I ask myself, what makes them better and how can I be like them? How can they ride so fast yet so safe? Turns out they have harnessed their subconscious to do most of the work.
Wabi sabi is a concept from Japanise aethetics which helps us to see beauty in imperfection, appreciate simplicity and accept the transient nature of all things. A lot of wabi sabi is about reconnecting to nature, appreciating the seasons coming and going shows us all too well the impermanence of everything, but in a way that celebrates changes rather than resists them. Wabi Sabi is fundamental to the gentle nature of Japanese people and a world view that guides the way they experience life. It's also the way in which I ride my motorcycle.
We tend to categorise people's predispositions as either leaning towards science and maths or arts and culture, but the greatest intellects do not recognise a hard separation between the two. Both science and art are attempting to understand the workings of the universe around us.
Everything you see around you that we humans have discovered or manifested into this world started out as a single thought. Many of our noted scientists were also artists or musicians and appreciated great beauty - Leonardo, Einstein, Newton - universal wonder and curiosity inspiring them first to imagine and then to validate.
This quote from a contemporary quantum physicist sums it up neatly:
"And the beauty of the scientific enterprise is that we are in touch with the unknown, what we don’t know, and we try to make steps into it. So, that’s a strength of science, that it works out of beauty, out of intuition, out of imagination, but it has a very solid way, then, ofchecking." Carlo Rovelli
So we should encourage both aspects of this dual nature of our mind in our children, for in fact they are both totally necessary for the future of mankind. If you can dream it, you can do it.
But first you must dream it.
A man who strives after goodness in all his acts is sure to come to ruin, since there are so many men who are not good."
This is a quote by Machiavelli, an often misunderstood political philosopher and diplomat from the 15th Century.
Machiavelli teaches us many things about human nature. His writings demonstrate quite clearly why it seems in politics there doesn't seem much honesty or integrity, since those qualities do not succeed in this cut-throat, dog-eat-dog world. Of course, Machiavelli has a bad press because his most quoted work, The Prince looks like a handbook in how to be evil. In fact, the way I look at it he was just giving us the tricks of the trade so that we, the public, could be wary of the motivations of those in power and identify and root out unethical behaviour. His book should be required reading at school.
I met and had a short correspondence with his great great (x whatever) grand-daughter after a chance meeting in Singapore a few years back. Just a stranger to me at the time, we were both wandering around Battle Box museum, another name for the Fort Canning Bunker, a bomb-proof command centre used during the Battle of Singapore, where the English surrendered to the Japanese in WWII, We kept on bumping into each other by various dusty and somewhat miserable mannequins, clad in appropriate military attire and poised in positions of action at tables or standing looking vacantly into the distance, presumably waiting for the Japanese to burst in. Or maybe it was just that they were, after all, just plastic dummies so lifeless and vacant eyes are pretty much unavoidable. I used the word "Machiavelli" in front of her in what was probably a lame attempt at some humour when she stopped dead in her tracks. She introduced herself as a direct descendant. What are the chances eh?
Outside of politics, Machiavelli offers guidance to me from an existential perspective. Not on how to screw everyone over before they do it to you, but to be aware that the potential exists for unfairness in life and not to get caught up in any kind of bubble believing that doing good to everyone regardless will result in a better world. I will carry on being altruistic, trying my best to be and kind and thoughtful to others as it's my code of conduct, the values I live by. But I, as should you, must be wary that there are those who do not share your ideals in life. Who would, given the opportunity, take and not return. Who would see your goodness and shaft, not share. So be wary of such people and walk away without a second glance. No point in letting them get under your skin, they are who they are, a product of their biology and experiences, and to be upset by them is to allow them some kind of power over your state of mind. Life is too short for that nonsense. Screw them.
So read The Prince, and Sun Tzu's The Art of War and learn how people can be. Then be the opposite. Until they mess with you. Then throw the book at them (the hardback version, preferably) as you walk away.
Weak people revenge. Strong people forgive. Intelligent people ignore." Albert Einstein
Your brain is not in a fixed state during adulthood. It's constantly in a dynamic state of self-repair and regeneration, giving birth to new neurons through a process called neurogenesis. Born in your hippocampus, neurons float around for a bit having a jolly old time and then either die of boredom or get annexed and put to work on a region of your brain that needs them. If they get annexed they form stronger communications pathways in those areas.
If you aim to learn a new skill then you will be increasing your brain's neuronal connectivity, rounding up spare neurons and adding them to your brains 'connectome', or wiring diagram. This will help against the impact of dementia in older age. It won't necessarily prevent it, but if you have a gradual reduction in neuronal activity over time, the more neurons you have, the longer this degeneration will take.
Plus, the more pathways the stronger the neuronal circuitry in your brain and the more capacity you have for critical and creative thinking, logic, memory and reaction times. That could alone save your life out on the road. Or help with catching mice.
5 ways to assist Neurogenesis:
Lots more you can do of course, but it's a start.
This year, save those newborn neurons from a certain, horrific death.
Give them something interesting to do and watch them, and you, thrive.
Probably best not to feed them after midnight though, just in case.
When you look up at the stars on a dark night, are you sometimes overwhelmed at the sheer scale of it all? Does it occasionally make you feel insignificant, like a tiny speck of dust whose problems don't actually amount to a hill of beans? Not me.