My mission for the day was to get through it without backing down or crashing. It was a tall order but resolve under the guidance of an expert instructor won out. I didn’t expect the strength and serenity that came with it.
Determined to bring fear under control so I could manage the gravel, I’d signed up for a half-day of one-to-one training with Clinton Smout, the expertise behind SMART Adventures.
Clinton taught me how to be a motorcycle instructor sixteen years ago. From the start, I’ve loved his ability to weave humor, technical skills, and candor into a successful teaching strategy. His knack for to see through students’ demeanor and understand how to engage them and how they’ll best learn creates superior training delivery.
It’s not the first time I’ve taken classes at SMART Adventures’ rider training center and I’ve lived on gravel roads for much of my life. But lingering fear following a slide following a mountain driveway in 2013 and a spectacular crash in 2014 occluded what I knew I could do.
The fear has a rational basis but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to let it stop me. Next week I’ll begin a three-month moto book cross-country tour with a fully loaded motorcycle. While I’m hoping all roads are paved, there are bound to be detours and construction. I wanted to reduce the anxiety that accompanies even a “Construction Ahead” sign.
Clinton understands overcoming fear is harder than overcoming gravel. He advised me to adopt my instructor role and coach myself as I would a student. His goal was to reinforce my muscle memory for control basics, not prepare me for the Dakar.
We started small on 125cc Yamaha TTR on a sand-gravel surface, riding a straight line in first gear and coming to a controlled stop, introducing little rear-wheel skids. U-turns were next followed by laps around the oval in both directions.
Then it was time to move up to the 250cc enduro bike and the gravel roads cutting through forests surrounding the training center. Riding through a tunnel of green charged with hardwood energy—strong, vibrant, grounding—reassured and invigorated me.
I coached myself, repeating my mantra. “Eyes ahead. Relax shoulders and elbows. Breathe. Keep your momentum up. Breathe.” We stopped before the hills or tricky sections for coaching. He gave me the choice to repeat sections or keep going on new ground. Always I told him to keep going.
It never got comfortable although there were a few surprising moments when I found myself enjoying the ride. What I noticed most was an increasing sense of calm and self-assurance. Gravel roads can take you to enjoyable and unexpected destinations.
My fear of gravel isn’t likely to go away. But refining the mental and physical muscle memory to keep it at bay is a skill I’ll take with me on any road and any life circumstance.
Photo credit: Clinton Smout
Next week I’ll begin my Long Road Home Moto-Book tour. Check out the dates, come along and join me wherever you can.
Related article: What a Motorcycle Mishap Can Teach Us