Voluntary Insanity

Voluntarily insane

By any standard definition, jumping motorcycles is both stupid and insane. Sanity is functionality. It is the wisdom to not be dangerous to yourself or others. It is the ability to swim with the current and stay clear of the undertow. Intelligence is the ability to learn, to assess risk, to choose the most logical and profitable course of action.

Stupid and insane. Words to describe the young men and women who break bones, wind up in wheelchairs, and sometimes die from riding high-powered off-road motorcycles. Though it’s a more acceptable fixation than it has been in the past, we still feel the bite of deviant labels in the stares of passerby as we drive to the local riding spot, ostentatious, brightly-colored mechanical steeds in tow. We can still hear the unanswered question in those stares:


Because. That’s why. It’s as simple as the question.

We do it “because.” It’s innate. Or, if it’s not, it becomes innate as soon as fear is overshadowed by excitement. We hop on a bike at a young age, maybe crash, learn the controls, and before long, we can’t stop. Teach a beginning guitarist a few new chords, and see if he puts down the guitar anytime soon. We see the tools and components that make up the masterpiece compositions we’ve witnessed—the 75 foot backflip combinations, the fourth-gear pinned, all-or-nothing outside pass—and we want to begin composing.

“But the risk, ohhhh, the risk!”

Yeah, we know. People die on motorcycles all the time. Any motorcyclist is guaranteed at least a few large, unsightly scars if they pursue their hobby with anything more than a lackadaisical interest. To get better, to fly farther, to race faster, a rider pays dues. Such is life. So it goes. We in the motocross community are all criminally insane and abysmally stupid.

The standard definitions of stupidity and insanity, though, sometimes fall short. They fail to apply. They are obsolete, outdated, narrow, or inflexible. See, by our definitions, we are not stupid or insane. We are realistic. We realize that our sport carries a hefty risk, so we wear helmets, neck protection, kevlar-and-leather boots. Life is fragile. It ends either suddenly or all too slowly. World War Three could start tomorrow. An SUV could take your life away on the bleary-eyed drive to work. Some bad meat from the local grocer might put you in a hospital for the next three months.

To this argument, I always hear: “Yeah, but those things aren’t likely to happen. They might, but they won’t.”

Exactly: “Motorcycles could kill you. You could crash and die.” We might, but we won’t.

How else can a person think about life? Should we be terrified of danger in all forms? Wrap ourselves in bubble-wrap, sleep 8.5 hours per night, drink water and eat vegetables and organic, healthy foods only? Yeah, maybe. It may work for some people. For the riders, the flyers, the racers… no. We know life is dangerous. And we choose to accept that.

Every time I line up for an unknown, large jump on my motocross bike, a small voice says, “you could crash.”

But then, a larger voice answers, “but you won’t.” And most of the time, I don’t.

I’m not schizophrenic. Not insane. Not stupid. I just do my best to turn fear into confidence. The joy that comes from this process is one of those pesky indefinables: Stare at a jump for two hours. Watch the professionals hit it. Roll over it, shaking your head, knowing you can do it, but afraid to commit to it and try. Then, one lap, one second, something clicks in your brain. Confidence overcomes fear. You screw on the throttle, lean forward, look ahead, and lift off. Spot your landing, adjust as necessary, and in an instant, you’re on the other side. And the insurmountable mountain is a pathetic excuse for a molehill. The impossible is incredibly, inexplicably possible. And you’re not afraid.

That is the nature of our “insanity.” How hypocritical is it to call one segment of the population insane or stupid for their desire to leap before looking, when every great advance in human history comes from those who push, try harder, and risk it all in the name of progression? Progression is our bible. We strive for it. To go faster. Fly higher. Extend further on a new trick. Every ride, we learn.

To avoid risk, to say, “no, it’s just too dangerous”—to me, that’s insanity. Saying “no” produces only unopened doors. Saying “no” will assure that you have no romance, no memories, no happiness, no sadness, no life. To say “yes”—well, that leads to an interesting existence. (Admittedly, to say only “yes” leads to a brief existence, but to me, it’d still be preferable to a life of “no.”)

We are seeking quality of life. Seeking a balance of Yes and No. Progression with minimal injury. Excitement and happiness through mastery of danger. This attitude bleeds over into life after it’s been reinforced on the track. Possibilities appear where none were before. Risks seem insignificant when compared with the risk involved in a 5th gear leap over a dirt valley. Soon, we learn to live aggressively, pursuing all leads, chasing all possibilities, and yes, taking risks.

These things are not stupid or insane, and neither are we. We’re just trying to find something worth finding.

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