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January 2005 Limited Articulation Trail Techniques Active Seeing

Posted in Features on January 1, 2005
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Contributors: Jon Thompson

I was out 'wheeling last week with a young man just starting out in our activity, and we got to talking a little, as we drove, about the activity. He asked some basic questions about driving technique, and in answering them, I began explaining to my friend how I use my eyes. Now, I'd never really thought about this before, I just did it. But my techniques-and you can decide for yourself if either of them is something you want to adopt-work for me, and make sense to me, so I explained them to my friend.

Really, they constitute the difference, as a driver, between passive sight and active sight. In passive sight, sunlight is reflected from objects through your pair of corneas and irises, meets the retinas, and is transmitted to your brain via the optic nerves. OK, it's actually far more complicated than that, but that's the basic idea. Anyway, you do no work; you merely react (or not) to the images that are sent to your brain, and that's that.

Using active sight, the same process occurs. But before and while it occurs, you, as a thinking driver who is looking to drive in the most tidy and precise ways you can, are working your eyes hard. One way to work them, I realized while I was talking to my friend, was something I learned when my kids were little and we were deeply involved in a Boy Scouts of America backpacking troop. We took this seriously and learned many things, not least the concept of three-stage seeing while you're picking your way along the trail. To use this, you move your eyes constantly-you look close, medium and far, medium, close, medium, far-like that, so that you're never surprised when your footing, the slope, the width of the trail, or anything else changes. You actively use your eyes to scan everything, and you use what those scans reveal to pick your line. Works when you're hiking, and works beautifully when you're 'wheeling.

There is a variation to this theme. It's one I learned during a performance-driving course I took a lifetime ago when I was foolin' with sporty cars. Where the first method I've mentioned requires you to activate the muscles and tendons that control the movement of your eyes, this one places greater weight on your powers of concentration, and your ability to visually multitask. It involves becoming equally aware of your central vision and your peripheral vision. Try it now. Stare at the center of your page, then reorient your brain, without moving your eyes, so that your peripheral vision sees, and recognizes, as much as your central vision does. It takes some practice, but once you perfect your abilities, it works well. You can do this on the trail. Use your central vision to look down the trail-or, for that matter, highway-to pick your line, and use your peripheral vision to register what's in close to you so that you can make fine adjustments to your line.

Either way, this is active seeing-using your eyes aggressively in the same way you use your other tools-physical and otherwise. I use both of these techniques when I 'wheel. Do they make me a better 'wheeler? I don't know, but I do know that they're both far better than just passively accepting what your eyes tell you, without consciously and actively directing your eyes so that they'll provide the information you most need to have.

Come to think of it, there probably are some other uses for these techniques-for instance, appreciating a handsome female without making it obvious that you're, uh, looking. See? There's a practical, every-day-useful side to everything. You read it here first.

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