Flow State

As I sat there on the edge of the highway watching the clouds, fat with rain, undulate and roll over one another in the sky, I wondered if we’d be able to evade the rain. So far we’d been lucky with just a bit of drizzle but that sky wasn’t making any promises. Just outside of Banff my motorcycle had begun to hiccup and cough and eventually had puttered out and died. 130 km. That’s what I can get out of a tank of gas on my 93 Suzuki Savage. Jay had gone to get me gas in Banff. I was glad to have someone with me on a longer ride like this. Jasper is where we were heading. 5 hours north and west.

It was my first long trip on my motorcycle. The furthest I’d driven was maybe a couple hours. Down highway 40 into the pines and mountains of Kananaskis or over to the badlands and hoodoos of Drumheller. The night before my motorcycle hadn’t been running well, spluttering and unable to accelerate past 70 km/hr. There wasn’t time to look at it, so I’d lit sage and prayed to the stars that it was something that sitting through the night would fix. Not exactly scientific but, hell, I figured it couldn’t make things worse. The next morning, I woke up early and took it for a ride around the neighborhood and found it was running ok again! Maybe just some air in the fuel line…

After about a half hour of sitting in the tall grass beside the highway, watching traffic whoosh by, Jay returned to much acclaim, with a jerry can full of gas. I refueled and we took off. We rode past Banff and stopped in lake Louise to refuel and then set off up highway 93. It was 78 km to the next service station and 230 km to Lake Louise. About 15 minutes in it started to drizzle lightly again. Another 15 minutes in it was a full on, god damned down pour. Sheets of water plummeting from the sky. The highway was alive with streams of water rushing across it. The visor of my helmet was obscured with the water rushing down it and I had to keep wiping it clean. The steady stream of icy water then ran down the neck of my jacket over my back and my stomach, stinging my body in the cruel way that cold does.

Despite the freezing cold and the poor visibility and the roads rushing with rain, it never occurred to me to stop. Instead my internal dialogue was something like this, “Keep your eyes open. Stay alert. Look for any little inconsistency in the road. Eyes 50 m ahead. Don’t lean so much on your turns. Keep your body loose. Don’t grit your teeth. Stay focused. One turn at a time. Ease off the throttle coming in to this turn. Wait for the straight stretch to wipe your visor.”

As I drove on, observing myself, critiquing myself, advising myself, I fell into a flow state, where the cold slowly left my awareness and the fear left my awareness. Everything became reduced to its most simple and fundamental form, stripped down of complicated symbolic meaning. In this state, my consciousness was at peace and there was this all encompassing feeling that I was in control and capable of anything. Thinking about it now, there are goosebumps rising down my spine and along my arms.

This is the feeling that I live for. The ‘flow state’ as coined and explore by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. In this book Csikszentmihalyi writes, “The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen.” I get that!

When we finally stopped, soaked and shaking with the cold, we were both elated. Drunk on adrenaline, smiling smiles that split our faces in two, everything was hilarious as we rehashed our experiences. I looked like I had pissed myself because the water had been running down my back and chest and pooling in the seat between my legs. Jay dumped about a cup of water out of each of his boots and we laughed until our sides hurt as he did. In spite of the fact that we were both chilled to the bone, fingers blue, and everything we had was drenched we both felt on top of the world. We knew that we had done something difficult and worthwhile, something that not many people do, something that was worth telling a story about.

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