On the Duhok- Zakho Road

I’m lucky enough to have ridden most of the major roads of Kurdistan by now. All of them have a unique character and are, despite many faults, enjoyable rides.  Some of them wind carefree around rolling hills and some of them bob up and down while plowing straight across open fields and plains.

Each has their own feel. Characteristics differ greatly, but with even just one or two through-rides I can log separate twists and potholes to memory and do better to avoid them in the future.

Each ride on every road is a transitional experience.  The first ride on any given stretch is an exercise in judgment control.  Seeing what lies ahead, what to avoid, what corners are blind, and anticipating what turns will come if and when my vision is blocked.  Constantly using what clues and information I have of the road to gauge what’s coming next.

It’s all a lesson in mindfulness.  Awareness moment-to-moment is the crux of motorcycling as everything happens in real time around you.  Rather than being a spectator to the show as a car passenger or driver would be, you become part of the scenery as it rushes past you with every bump felt through your body and the wind constantly at your face.

But with the second ride on a same road, the experience transitions. The mindfulness remains, but the second ride frees the energy and attention that before I had to dedicate just to the road, energy I can now give to everything passing by. I have the chance to enjoy scenery that I hadn’t yet been afforded the chance to see. With every ride, every view changes, not because the landscape is shifting itself, but because I have the time to enjoy it more and experience it differently. Mindfulness for the unknown thrills of the ride becomes mindfulness for the beauty of it.  This is why no two rides are ever alike, even if always on the same route.

Foothills between Duhok and Zakho, on the northern edge of the Plains of Nineveh

However, all rules are thrown out the window on the Duhok- Zakho Road.

All well-traveled roads in Kurdistan are a tortuous change from the charming back roads between villages.  Heavy traffic, erratic drivers and risk-prone trucks make for a drive unlike any other. Even before I’d ever ridden the road to-and-from Zakho I knew it’s reputation as an axle-killer and tire-shredder.

It is the first major stretch of road from the Turkish border, with massive trucks and lorries passing through at all times of day and night.  Poor paving and heavy wheels have worn down the asphalt making small ruts unpredictable bumps and grooves. Deep cuts in the road are often the most dangerous, as my bike tires are often thinner than the grooves themselves, forcing me into a path like a train on tracks, unable to avoid the course set before me, and unable to react to the drivers around me.

Potholes become bike-eating craters. Trucks are fifteen-ton juggernauts who don’t believe in brakes.  On the Duhok-Zakho road mindfulness no longer brings a buzz of zen but rather a feeling of sheer necessity and basic survivability.

For as much as I hate that road- one ride leaves me rattled and disinterested in doing so again for weeks- I still enjoy it. Like all other roads in the country it has it’s unique flair. It might just be the true test of mindfulness, where every part of my concentration and ability is focused instantly and immediately on the pavement ten yards in front of me.

The transitional experience that I love when riding other roads never emerges on the Duhok-Zakho Road because there are always too many ever-changing variables to process for me to build a consistent memory.

Too many cars, too many potholes, too many speeders and brakers.  The mindfulness for the beauty of the ride never emerges because it’s a perpetual focus on the thrill- often terrifying- of what to do in the now.

And I both hate and enjoy it for doing in forty-five minutes what a normal ride takes me six hours to do; feel spent and used in every sense.

The road is worth it if just for the first views of Zakho and the mountains on the Turkish border

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