Day 332. The Zen of Mountain Biking

Thursday, January 19, 2012

I’m up to date, baby. I’m writing about the current day again.

This summer I had a philosophical post about hiking and life. You can read it here. Today, I went mountain biking and had some similar thoughts while I was going. I would also like to point out that on Tuesday it was freezing and I could barely stand walking to my car, and today I was mountain biking in shorts. Missouri.

I’m not an outstanding mountain biker, but I really like it. There are guys with a lot more guts (and broken collarbones) than me. With that said, the greatest skill that I’ve learned in making me a better mountain biker is that the brakes don’t help you as much as you think they would. In fact, braking too much can hurt you. Often times in my less experienced days, I would ride my brakes and go very slowly. I learned that you need to lay off of the brake more and let the hill take you because if you’re going too slow, then a rock or a root can really mess you up, you don’t have the momentum to overcome them. Yet, the same rock, or root can be a harmless bump if you have enough speed when you encounter it. The speed takes the effectiveness away from an obstacle.

Too often, I try to go slowly when encountering things in my life. I think, “I need to slow down and give myself a chance to really examine all of my options here.” I think the brakes hurt me in those situations. Not every situation is meant to be examined slowly. Not every situation benefits from being examined slowly. Some situations are hurt by being examined slowly. It feels to me counterintuitive, but in mountain biking it’s definitely true.

In mountain biking, when you’re heading downhill, you want to pick a line and go with it. What I mean by this is that, if you’re going downhill with even a little bit of speed, you don’t have time to examine everything, like I mentioned. So, you need to find a line, or a route amongst the rocks, roots, and mud, that looks like the path of least resistance. In the middle of the route, you may realize that you should have chosen the other side of the trail, but at that point it is more dangerous to try to slow down, lift your tire, and change course in the middle of it. You can’t choose each part of it, because really it’s an agreement between you and the environment, so there is a part of it that involves letting go. You can’t try to control things too much, it’s better to hold onto the handle bars loosely, put your weight towards the back of the bike and let things happen. Mountain biking, with all of it’s intensity is really less about forcing things, and more about letting things happen.

So often, while I’m doing something, whether it’s a career, or whatever, I think about what it would have been like if I jumped over and tried another path. Now, I think it’s better to just choose a path and keep charging through it. Now, this is coming from a guy who in the last year quit his job, moved to LA, and moved back, talk about changing paths midway through things. I don’t think it applies to all situations, but the point is, there is value in instinctively choosing a path and letting the ride happen. I try to control all of the circumstances around me too much, when I really need to hold a little more loosely, let things happen, and enjoy the ride.

There is some danger in mountain biking, people probably wouldn’t do it if there wasn’t. I like that about it. Also, I hate that about it. I don’t like the idea of falling. But, in mountain biking, you’re doing it wrong if you don’t fall occasionally. You should be riding on the edge a bit where you feel like falling is a possibility. The edge is different for everybody. Here’s the thing I’ve learned about falling though, it’s usually not as bad as you think it’s going to be. Each time I’ve fallen, I’ve gotten up and thought, “Okay, that was manageable.” Now, if I’m in the same situation, same part of the trail, but I’m standing by my bike, looking at the rocky side of a trail, and a friend said to me, “I dare you to hurl yourself to the ground there.” I would say, “No way, of course not, why am I friends with you?”

Things aren’t as bad when they occur in the middle of things, riding, and breathing, and striving in the rush of things. When you look at them with some distance, they seem like something horrific. I would rather things happen to me in the middle of really living than in the middle of watching and considering.

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