Counting Sheep

Route 133 between Damascus, VA and Shady Valley, TN wonders side by side with mountain streams and passes through a very unique tunnel called Back Bone Rock.  Offering turns and twists, this roadway is frequently visited by motorcyclists and enjoyed by motorists as well.  A few weekends ago, I was enjoying this mountain ride when I came upon a farm truck pulling a small trailer loaded with sheep.  Following the farm truck, I became completely distracted with the ordeal that was taking place in the small trailer.   The larger, older sheep seemed to find their “hoofing” and could sway with the movement of the trailer as it wound its way through the curves.  To my despair, the small lambs were having difficulty standing and would fall. They would struggle to get back up on their tiny legs.  Several times a small leg would slip through the bars at the back of the trailer and I would become alarmed as I realized the smallest of the lambs could easily fit between the bars and possibly fall out.  The mothers would try to position themselves to protect their little ones and to no avail the lambs would slip and be right back at the bars.   The stressful ride for these sheep could be heard in their continued baaing and even the look of turmoil showing on their faces. I was distraught for them. 

Along with being agitated with what was going on in front of me, I was completely distracted by the sheep.  For a motorcyclist, distraction and becoming fixated can be very dangerous.  I was fully aware that I was being distracted from where my attention should be.  I kept finding it more and more difficult to keep myself looking ahead of the truck and trailer. Along with being distracted comes the danger of experiencing target fixation. This occurs when we see something dangerous or unusual and we look directly at the object excluding nearly everything else.  Often called “tunnel vision” and resulting in following the object until crashing into it.   When we first learn to ride, we quickly learn that the motorcycle goes where we look.  As I tell my students, “the motorcycle goes where your nose is pointing”. 

With this in mind, try to use these guidelines for overcoming distractions and target fixation: 

  • When approaching curves/turns, always look as far through the curve/turn as you can. 
  • Practice using your peripheral vision so that you can look beyond objects on the roadway in front of you.
  • If there is a vehicle in front of you (or trailer full of sheep), look past the vehicle.
  • Look where you want to go.
  • Increase the distance between you and the vehicle in front of you.
  • Pull off the road for a short break.

Target fixation is an actual phenomenon.  An individual will become so interested (focused) on an object that their risk of colliding with the object greatly increases. This happens to motorists, race-car drivers and even fighter pilots.  Take notice when your attention starts to waiver and you find yourself being distracted or even fixated on an object. Try using some of the guidelines mentioned and remember, safe riding starts with you! 

Thunder Roads of Tennessee/Kentucky, June 2019

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