Thursday, July 31, 2014

The 1K Ride

The ride start time was 5am—I was up at 3.30am. I packed the previous night, so all I had to do was stretch and suit up. No time for breakfast. No time to make lunch (my favorite pre-ride ritual). The starting point was in San Mateo, 45 minutes away, and I did not want to be late. When I arrived at the starting point, my rider coach was already there, bright and bushy tailed, and ready to ride. I gave him the release form, he signed the paperwork to witness the start of the ride, I filled gas—to get a the receipt with the start time for the ride, and we were off!

Northern California is the perfect place to ride 1,000 miles in one day. July is the perfect month to do it in. At 5.39am we crossed the Golden Gate bridge, at 6.08am, the GPS backlight flipped from dark to light. The sun rose gently, and I was thunderstruck by the beauty of the countryside. If such splendor existed on earth, I wondered what heaven would be like.

We rode the “twisties” in the hills, we rode the straight highway road, and we rode the gentle curves. We rode in cold weather, we rode in hot weather, all in one day. Growing up in India turned out to be an asset, I did not even notice the temperature swings till my rider coach mentioned it. We rode in traffic, and we rode with nary a living being in sight. Riding in the hills at night turned out to be much easier than riding the hills in the day. There was no traffic, we could see the road clearly—the roads had plenty of reflectors and both our bikes had strong headlights. It was an eerie feeling, I could feel the trees in the woods, I could feel the sea breeze, and I could feel the ocean, all in the darkness.

I discovered that Maggie at 95 miles an hour was steady as a rock in a storm. I could not believe how vibration free the ride was at high speeds. Lower vibrations means lower fatigue. From my heart, I thanked the engineers who designed and built her. She is a great choice for long rides. I am surprised I don't see more of her sisters on the road.

When I first heard about the 1,000-miles-in-one-day ride, I was immediately drawn to the idea. I don’t know why, but it did not matter. My goal was to prepare by slowly increasing the distance travelled till I built the stamina to ride 1,000 miles. Before you know it, I saw this invite on for a 1,000 mile ride for newbies, and without hesitation I signed up. So much for the grand plan to build up to it. This was the equivalent of jumping into the pool where the options are, sink or swim.

Does 1,000 miles sound like a lot to ride in one day? Yes, it is. So how do you ride 1,000 miles? Around 120 miles at a time. My rider coach had mapped out the route ( Thus, I knew that the route would hold few surprises. We had to stop every 120 miles or so so to fill gas, get a gas receipt to document the location and time stamp. The location with the time stops would be proof that we rode 1,000 miles in one day. So I knew this is not a non-stop trip and I would get breaks along the way.

All visions of a relaxed cruise evaporated after the first couple of stops. The cold reality was that we had to be on the go, and stop only when absolutely necessary. A brief stop for lunch and an afternoon snack was all the food stops we got. At each gas stop, drinking and ejecting fluid was a priority. Next time I will pack light snacks to keep my energy level up.

The vertical bars on the graph below shows the distance between stops for gas. The line shows the number of stops between each stops for gas. I completed the first 110 miles without a break (enthusiasm!). After that I needed one extra stop between gas stops, after the half way point, I needed two extra stops between gas stops.

The extra stops prolonged the ride time by a couple of hours, but I had no intention of being a hero, I was not looking to set a record or prove my stamina. I was going to take as many breaks as I needed to complete the ride. Heck, I did not care if I did not finish, I was going to give it my best shot anyway. Fortunately, my rider coach has the patience of Job, and was very accommodating every time I needed to stop.

There were only two of us, so I had my rider coach's full attention. He is an experienced long distance rider who knew how to tutor without being overpowering. I got the right advice at the right time, no more, no less. In the first half of the ride, he let me lead and that worked well. The traffic was light and Maggie devoured the road. In the afternoon, when the traffic built up, my inexperienced and erratic driving slowed us down. He offered to lead and set the pace. I gratefully agreed to have him lead. He knew my top speed was 75 miles per hour and he set his cruise control accordingly. I hung on to his tail light and we were back on track.

At each stop, my rider coach would calculate the time to finish. He would announce the estimated end time as a matter of fact, with no urging to finish earlier.  He set a target of 18 to 20 hours to complete the ride, but showed no sign of wanting to wind up early and get to bed. He was there to make sure I was safe and completed the ride. Period.

Riding long distances is hard work. My attention wandered and concentration wavered, and my body hurt. But the thought of quitting did not even enter my mind. All my energy went into keeping my wits about me. This made it easier because I could ride without worrying about success or failure. I knew I could and would stop if fatigue made it unsafe to ride. That meant my attention was taken up by monitoring my fatigue levels, not on success or failure.

Being in “the zone” and not worrying about success or failure is an unforgettable experience. I wish I could bottle that feeling and replicate it on demand. It is easy to be in “the zone” when the experience is new, the risks unknown, and the adrenalin provides the excitement and motivation. When the task at hand is not new, then boredom is the enemy. Pursuing new experiences as the only way to be in “the zone” is not scalable. More on this later.

Towards the end of the journey, I reflected upon the team work that goes into a long distance motorcycle ride. The casual observer may see motorcycle riding as an individual effort, the lone ranger on a quest for solitude. Starting with a wife who allows it, rider coaches who teach life saving skills, strangers who give energy in group rides, mechanics who tend to the bike, and the ecosystem of vendors who provide equipment, all ensure that motorcycle riding is not an individual endeavor. I resolved to show awareness, appreciation, and gratitude by riding safely and being a perpetual student of riding techniques.

It took a lot of preparation to ride 1,000 miles in one day. Regular visits to the gym, stretching, weight control, riding technique, research, planning, riding lessons, and practice runs were all part of it. Keeping Maggie in top shape, regular service, washing, and waxing, was not a chore, but a pleasure.

At the end of the ride, the silent nod and gentle smile from my rider coach was all the recognition I needed, as that was earned the hard way. Words are not needed. My friends cheered me on, whether they rode motorcycles or not. The knowledgeable people applauded the accomplishment, they knew how difficult this task is.

To my surprise not everyone was overcome with admiration. When I shared the event with my fellow riders on an email alias at work, a couple of them questioned my sanity. Fortunately, I was equanimous in my reply (I wrote back, "Long distance riding is not easy; it is not different from the challenge of activities that require endurance and stamina; it is not for everyone”). I took it for granted that my fellow riders will be open minded and embrace the idea, but in the end, I learned to accept that not everyone will find long distance riding appealing.

So why do it? The glib answer is, "because I can."

When the voice within says, "Do it", I follow my instinct. This is easy to understand for those who have followed their instincts, and very hard for those who have not. In the end, this is perhaps the best explanation for undertaking this audacious attempt.

Now what? Another itch has been scratched. Do I look for another itch? Or do I wait for an itch to develop? Was this an itch or something deeper? We’ll know soon enough.

You can track my motorcycle adventures on my Facebook page.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The genesis of VMM

For those of you have been following the Facebook page on VMM, know that VMM is inspired by ZMM (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Pirsig, Robert 1974). If you have read ZMM, you know that VMM is very different. This blog post makes those differences explicit and explains the genesis of VMM.

The first difference is that ZMM is based on western philosophy, and VMM is based on eastern philosophy. This fundamentally guarantees that while they may sound similar, they will each have a unique thought process.

The second difference is that they both seek to answer different questions. ZMM explores the meaning and concept of quality. VMM seeks to explore the concept of "happiness" and "suffering" in the workplace. 

It is best to keep the differences to these two points for now. I have to explain VMM in more detail before any further comparison is meaningful, relevant, interesting, and useful.

Why motorcycles as a launching pad to communicate my ideas? It does not have to be motorcycles. Here are four classics for your consideration.


Each one explores a very specific task and provides practical and easy to follow explanation of how to enjoy the task (playing tennis, playing golf, working, playing music), improve your performance, and reach your potential. The goal of both Prisig and Galloway is to apply philosophy to problems that vex us. I have personally attained a "zen like state" when playing tennis and learned more about myself and life lessons just by hitting a fuzzy yellow ball. Alas, those moments were fleeting and not consistent enough for me to move beyond the "advanced beginner" status. You may not have played tennis, or golf, but the underlying principles of excelling at tennis and golf can be applied to any endeavor (as proven by The Inner Game of Work and The Inner Game of Music). What you need is an open mind and an ability to learn from metaphors, comparisons, and abstractions.

If you don't like sports similes, here are some other classics that are along the same lines. The following are my personal favorites. Warning: these take a lot of work to read and understand.


These books explore the relationship between physics, mathematics, art, and philosophy. They are not for the faint of heart. Even if you don't read them I recommend you have them on your bookshelf to intimidate your visitors.

VMM explores concepts that are complementary to all the above classics. It uses the lens of Vipassana, which for now, we will define as "insight into the true nature of reality" (Rinpoche and Gunaratana).

Siddhartha Gautama (hereinafter referred to as Sid) a.k.a. Gautama the Buddha, cracked the code on "suffering" and explained how to overcome suffering. The teaching is elegant and the techniques effective. However, the practice in its pure form requires enormous discipline, which few humans have been able to show consistently.

VMM will explore how the teachings of Sid can be applied in the modern workplace. Storytelling has been used in almost every culture and religion to communicate values, teach right from wrong, provide guidance to solve problems, and build character. If done properly, motorcycles can provide to be a fun way to explain, engage, and transition to a hypothesis followed by explanations and evidence. The use of motorcycles to tell stories and communicate ideas is simply one of convenience. Besides, motorcycles are an area of interest for me, and that settles the matter!

While I believe everything that needs to be said about attaining happiness and eliminating suffering has already been said, what is needed is a simpler and more practical way to practice the teaching and bring lasting change in each one of us, so we can benefit from the wisdom already available. Consider this proposition: 
  • We do not need more or new wisdom, what we need is more insight, a step by step progressive approach, and the discipline to adopt habits that will bring us happiness.
Why should you care? For one thing, every human seeks to increase happiness and lower suffering in the workplace. If you do not wish to increase your happiness or lower your suffering at work, you need professional help. Please stop reading and get that help right away.

A second reason is that you probably spend most of your time at work. I define "work" broadly as almost any endeavor where you seek to meet goals of some kind, for which you earn an income. This excludes students, but includes trainees and interns who get a stipend. Take a look at how you spend your time. Any time spent not sleeping, eating, relaxing, and pursuing a hobby is probably time spent on "work." This is at least one-third of the day for the average person. Some workaholics take a break only to sleep, and work the remaining hours.

A third reason you should care is because you probably entered the workforce with skills to perform tasks. You were most likely not given the skills to be happy. Even with the plethora of self help content available today, there is no systematic way to prepare our youth who enter the workforce. Just thinking about the multitudes who go thru the motions at work, miserable and frustrated, is enough to depress even the most optimistic person. Each miserable person is interacting with, and sharing their misery with co-workers and customers, multiplying the misery in the world. 

To remove suffering in the workplace, we have to provide those who are entering the workforce with skills and somehow help those who have been overcome by cynicism after many years in the workforce.

For simplicity, the following assumptions will be made.
  • Suffering and happiness in the workplace impacts every single person, even those who are not employed. 
  • Organizations and nations are incurring costs and failing to meet their vision and charter because workers are unhappy. 
The business case for reducing suffering and increasing happiness is clear. Yes, proof and citations etc. are needed, but I doubt if anyone will disagree with the above assumptions.

Many barriers and hurdles are waiting to be overcome. Suffering and happiness are controversial topics. Therefore, we must start with clear definitions to understand the scope and propositions. There is an utter lack of appreciation for diversity, meaning, ideas that don't align with the reader's thinking pattern is likely to be rejected without due process. Therefore words have to be chosen carefully, not to "sell" ideas or to challenge, but to ensure that the ideas are given a fair hearing. We are surrounded by poor role models and being asked to change our behavior with few people to show us the correct behavior to reduce suffering and increase happiness is actually asking a lot. 

But reducing suffering and increasing happiness in the workplace is a worthwhile effort. If we simply make the effort to improve our lot, even if we do not succeed in our lifetime, the next generation will have some momentum to carry the torch to greater heights.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

What I learned from my first 3-day ride

The 3-day ride to Northern California was a spectacular experience. I better write down what I learned before I forget. Here are my key takeaways.

  • Long distance riding takes preparation. Prepare, but be spontaneous.
It is a myth that motorcycle riding is a free flow, unstructured, and "ride at will" endeavor. Yes, you can do that if you wish, but you will enjoy the ride more, and be safe if you plan out the route, set the destination, have an idea of how many stops etc. During the ride, you can spontaneously make changes, but those changes will be made against the baseline plan, therefore it is not as if the original plan has to be followed in a strict manner. Hotels may not be available especially if you plan to ride during holiday weekends. Or you may end up in a low quality hotel and pay a high price for staying there.
  • Long distance riding takes fitness.
Physical and emotional energy is required to ensure you can remain in the moment and focus on the ride for long durations. The three components of fitness are strength, flexibility, and endurance. Regular exercise at the gym or elsewhere, a balanced, healthy diet, and good sleep habits is the way to build your fitness.
  • Group dynamics have to be managed carefully.
A group ride involves people who may not have ridden before. You may be aware of the forming-norming-storming-performing cycle that teams go through. A group ride will go through the same cycle as they learn and adjust to each others preferences. Do not be quick to judge during the "storming" phase. In this phase, complaints, whining, and conflict leads to improved understanding, and compromises are made. It is not easy to change and adjust, and there is not enough time to complete this phase in a leisurely manner. The other option is to ride only with people you know, but that may not be an option or may limit your range of experiences. Be flexible and suspend judgement at all times.
  • Watch your body temperature.
If you get hot or cold, it will wear you down faster. Dress in layers and don't hesitate to raise your hand if you need to stop and adjust your clothing. Drink fluids to stay hydrated (caffeinated drinks will reduce your water levels, take it easy on coffee and soda). Pack several bottles of water and have a drink every time you take a break.
  • Take frequent breaks.
Experienced riders are loath to take breaks and prefer to time their breaks with the need to refuel. Most cruisers can ride at least 150 miles before they need fuel. Since a gas station will not magically appear when you need it, you will need to fill every 110 to 120 miles. However, you may not last that long. It is better to stop than to cramp, because cramps will ensure you cannot maneuver your bike and that may lead to a crash. Even if you are able to stop, you may not be able to get off a heavy bike, and you may tip over. Therefore, ride with a group that is willing to stop when you need to, or don't go on group rides unless you can ride at least 100 miles without a break.
  • Get a good night sleep.
Rest is crucial. Unless you are competing, you will need a lot of rest. Take it easy on the drinking and partying at the end of a long day of riding. Early to bed and early to rise is the preferred mode.
  • The point is to collect experiences.
If new experiences make you uncomfortable, long distance riding is not for you. Every incident is to be treasured. Every sensation is to be savoured. There is no "right" or "wrong," or "good" or "bad." The only things to watch out for are "safe" and "unsafe." Your fellow riders may not have the same philosophy, so you have to accommodate for that as well.
  • Take lots of pictures.
The guidance is learn how to take pictures quickly. Modern cameras and digital and have enormous capacity for photos. Take lots of pictures and delete the ones you don't need later. You only have to worry about composition and focus. Unless that is the purpose of your trip, there is no time to leisurely set up your tripod.
  • Keep your motorcycle in top shape.
This is so obvious, but I thought I'd mention it for completeness. Carry some basic tools if you think it will be handy during the ride.
  • Make sure your riding skills are ready for a long ride.
This is also another obvious one. Experienced riders will want you to ride at their pace, though they may agree to slow down a little for you if you are still getting comfortable riding at high speeds. Ideally, all riders are at the same skill level, that will reduce one cause of friction.
  • Don't pack a lot of luggage.
Your motorcycle will typically have saddlebags and a sissy bar bag. These have limited capacities, so pack the bare minimum you need for the trip. Travel light, and be prepared to wear the same clothes for a few days. I'd insist on showering and changing my underwear daily, otherwise, wearing the same clothes for several days is not as bad as it sounds. If you are fussy, stop at a laundromat and wash your clothes every few days.
  • When nature calls.
If you remain hydrated, you will need to use the bathroom on the same schedule. When riding through civilized terrain, you will have access to toilets with soap and water. If not, ask mother nature for forgiveness, and let her know that it is better that you do not damage internal organs by holding on too much. Might as well pack a toilet roll, soap, and water. On a practical note, your hands need to be super clean before you wear your gloves. (but you knew that already!)
  • Staying in touch.
During group rides, friendships may be formed. Nurture them after the ride. However, the next group ride may not capture the same magic, but you may end up with a different level of magic. Do not compare rides, even with the same group.

  • Use gizmos for improved productivity.
A GPS is indispensable.  If you can program your route in advance, do so. Smartphones that will post pictures to social media will allow you to communicate with your near and dear ones, who will know where you are, real time.