I was riding from the village of Barcaggio on the northern cap of Corsica through the high mountains to Calvi, a city on the west coast of the island.
The narrow and winding road wasn’t like anything I experienced before, great views and all that, but steep and difficult. I passed the sign “Calvi 70 km” when the brakes on my BMW started to give a squeaking sound and I realized that they were overheating, as I had the bike fully serviced before the trip.
Still, I was pushing it, adrenaline pumping through my veins to the point I misjudged a turn and a white RV appeared right in front of me and I had two choices: hit it or drop the bike. I did the latter and as I was lying on the road with my right leg stuck under the motorcycle I was wondering if someone will hit me from behind.
The late Sergio Marchionne once said: “in life, if you push hard, you crash sometimes.” Guess that day it was my turn.
A group of Italian riders stopped behind me and one of them helped me to get the bike off the ground. It was scratched, but still good to ride.
“You okay?” he looked at me from behind the sunglasses.
“Yeah, just need a minute.”
He gave me a thumb up, climbed on his Multistrada and roared away.
And that left me wonder of what had just happened. My mountain riding skills are likely subpar – I am a cruiser guy, but the situation got me thinking about the perception abilities of my brain. In a fast paced settings one thing to understand is that when your eyes move, you’re blind for a split second, you brain fills up the void a little later. You can’t see your eyes move in the mirror, can you? The brain instead takes what it knows from before and after and stiches it together.
In tennis, with a really fast serve, the brain comprehends the location of the ball about 7m behind from where it already is. Of course you more or less know where it’s going to be, the brain makes predictions knowing its limitations. That is how tennis works and that’s why you can’t catch a fly in mid air (which moves about eight times slower than the tennis ball) because the linear predictions aren’t working. The fly moves randomly.
What’s more, when you see a scene you see everything together – the color the motion and the shape. But in the brain all these features are pulled apart and processed in different areas. They’re also processed at different speeds – color is processed more quickly than motion, which is processed more quickly than form.
When you open your eyes and look to the world there is one thing that you’re not seeing – and that is what’s happening now.
I kept going to Calvi, marveling the village signs shot up with high caliber weapons and French names painted over in back leaving just the Corsican dialect below.
It’s a special place – rough, beautiful and pristine.
On the Friday evening in Ajaccio after I checked in the hotel and parked my motorcycle, I went to the port for a dinner. It was a Fisherman Night, all seafood, all the time plus a good band playing on the stage. I was enjoying the local wine until my guarding angel told me its time to go. She saved me the day before, so I listened.
Tom Kubiak is the author of The Traveler