My brother visited us for the Jul 4th weekend and I was determined to show him around town despite the pathetic weather. We visited my favorite joints and drank a lot but he did express an interest in exploring my city’s almost nonexistent karting scene. We are raceheads so by extension, our interest in a comparatively laughable version of the real thing is expected. The last time I drove a kart was almost four years ago. I wasn’t bad at it then so it seemed like a good idea to rekindle some of that polite competition a small, 9hp trundler can instill in you when you don a helmet and start throwing the kart around the track.
We drove to the karting venue, paid, suited up and waited. My brother was motioned into the first kart and I went second. We had two other guys on the track with us. They flagged us off allowing for a safe separation. After all, it wasn’t a race. Yet.
There’s something about pushing down a pedal with a twisting, winding tarmac ahead of you and the blurs of other nameless helmets as they come at you, invisible and imperceptible except for the occasional motions of their hands on the steering wheel. It was exhilarating and something I was grateful to rediscover as soon as I set off. That lasted around five seconds. At the first turn I almost hit the wall, completely underestimating the force it takes to turn the steering wheel in a kart when you’re flat on the pedal. I had to hit the brake and the kart obliged by skidding and sliding wildly. I recovered and set off gingerly. The infernal twists threw up another wall at me and I braked again, carefully negotiating the turn with what I assumed was a masterful balance of speed and restraint. My brother had shot ahead, nowhere to be seen.
“When I wave the blue flag. Move over. MOVE OVER OKAY? MOVE OVER” yelled our track marshal just before the session. That was the only thing he was emphatic about during his litany of instructions. Be safe, don’t go too fast yada yada. But yeah, MOVE OVER when I wave the flag because this means you’re slower than the guy behind you and he needs to pass. Who cares, right? We’re all in this for fun.
I finished my fourth lap, feeling better about my lap times. As I hurtled down the opening “straight” (it was a gentle curve) I gaped in disbelief as a blue flag was waved at me. No way. How is this possible?! I’m not moving!
I realized why he’d chosen to yell this particular instruction at us. Furious, I moved aside at the next hairpin only to see my brother shoot past. He’d caught up with all of us and passed us in four laps. I was astounded. I decided to follow him to understand the secret of his success. His racing line was sharper, it hugged the curves more but most improbably, he seemed to be glued to the curves as he went around them. There was no loss of speed, the kart just seemed to effortlessly make its way around the corner. I tried and failed. As the hairpins inched closer my resolve to keep my right foot planted to the ground fell apart. Reflexes commanded my left foot to pound the brake. I fought the urge as hard as I could but to no avail. I was perceptibly slower around the curves and gap between him and me widened again in less than half a lap. He finished with a commanding performance. I came in last.
As we exchanged notes after the session I asked him how he’d managed such blistering pace. “Oh it’s nothing, I’ve been karting regularly.” (This was a good excuse I could tell myself as I tried to get my anger to subside.) I soldiered on in the interests of fairness and discovery. “But how did you take the curves so fast? Didn’t look like you braked at all.”
“You just have to commit.”
What? Commit? What does that mean? A car is physics, not metaphysics. If there’s a wall coming at you, you hit the brake and slow down. Or at the very least, you take your foot off the pedal to give yourself a chance at going around it instead of into it.
“See, it’s about exploring limits. It’s going to slide. It’s going to do scary things. You can’t let that get to you. You have to commit. You have to know it’s going to work out.”
He could’ve been describing the best approach to living life. Dealing with walls coming at you everyday. The disappointment of someone’s low expectations, disappointing those with high expectations, politics, squabbles, missed deadlines, missed paperwork, missed items on the grocery list. It keeps coming at you, and these are just the daily irritations. I’ve dealt with bigger frustrations, personal and professional. I’ve scraped through somehow and kept faith in myself. Life keeps slipping, sliding and skidding but I need to commit to the path I’ve chosen. A path charted from knowledge of my limitations, my strengths and of possibilities. The best I think I can do under the circumstances. Heck, there’s a chance I’m going to crash into that wall anyway, but at least it won’t be because I let it come at me as I stood transfixed, gaping like an idiot.
Commitment saps, emotionally and physically, just like those eight minutes I spent on track. It’s tiring to keep yourself motivated when things look like they’re not working out. It’s tiring to continue to believe in yourself when you’ve been written off. You take a deep breath, count your blessings and push on.
I guess I’ve learned I’m rusty at karting so I’m going to go back regularly and up my game. But perhaps, I’ve already learned the most important lesson it’s ever going to teach me.