Poetry of Motion
Despite being perpetually busy, I managed to find some time to squeeze in a nice trail ride on the bike this weekend. I headed out to a nice little single-track spot about half an hour from home and went on a short adventure in the middle of the day. I find a hard ride on the mountain bike is akin to physically taxing meditation on two wheels. I can be both singularly focused at times and also totally blank and open to the present moment. I also feel like dying…a lot.
I parked at the staging area and gathered all my gear and unloaded the bike and made my way to the trail-head. The ride started on a fire trail dirt road underneath a beautiful canopy of trees that formed a tunnel of leaves in all shades from green to yellow to brown that shimmered and danced with the wind and sunshine peeking through. The steep trail pushed on for what felt like a mile, but was likely far less.
It was a strikingly beautiful moving picture that captivated me in moments between noticing the burning in my legs, the pounding of my heart in my chest and near the bottom of my throat and my deep and less measured panting. At times I had to stop and take it all in…mostly because I was pretty sure I was dying, but also because it was pretty and needed to be savored.
The trail split and I followed the main fork up even higher. This turned out to be a mistake as it dead-ended at a cattle gate leading to the highway. So I turned around and zipped back down the trail and made the correct turn. This part of the trail turned quickly into an Instagram-worthy, tree covered, single-track line that wound around trees and up and down with the terrain. I could feel the temperature change under the thicker tree coverage and felt the wind bite where I was already sweating.
This part of the trail took me to an underpass where I went through a couple more cattle gates and then opened up to the khaki-colored grassy hilltops and tree-laden valleys that gave me a great view of the water. I followed more single-track around the edges of the hills and stopped for water and to snap more pictures of the expansive view and really to take a moment to feel small, yet important part of it all.
After a little more climbing, though not nearly as intense as the start, I made it to the picnic table denoting the beginning of the first flow trail (a trail that requires little pedaling and often snakes gently downhill with bermed hairpin turns). This is why I ride. I don’t love to climb, but I appreciate the grueling work of getting uphill so you can earn and really enjoy the downhill. While a climb can leave you totally spent and constantly reconsidering your choice of hobbies; the downhill fills you with immediate adrenaline, excitement, joy and rejuvenation that almost makes you forget entirely about the hard work to get there.
This flow trail has a series of tiny jumps, that you can either roll over, or pump and jump to get some air…not the kind of air you see on the internet, but like nearly two feet of gravity-defying awesomeness that still terrifies me just the right amount.
Now, of course, once you get to the bottom of the flow trail, which ends in a valley, the only way out is a steep, slow, exposed fire road back to the top. It was one this portion of the ride that I found the inspiration to write this post as well as deeply contemplate vomiting into said amber waves of grass…At one particular break on the climb out, I was struck by the contrast between the deep blueness of the cloudless sky and the dancing waves of beige grass that soothed me while I caught my breath and my heart rate returned to something less life-threatening.
About the middle of the climb back out of the bowl, it dawned on my that the lessons I told myself on the bike were directly applicable to my life in general and that a bike ride seemed a viable microcosm for examining how I approach the rest of my life.
Sometimes I just put my head down stare a few feet in front of my tire and focus all my energy on pedaling and keeping my momentum. Other times I look up and appraise my progress looking at the taunting hilltop at the end of the trail that appears to be the top, until I reach it and see there is yet more climbing ahead. Finally, there are times when I just had to stop. I had to admit that I couldn’t go any further without a break. I stop, chest heaving, panting so hard and feeling the flush of heat flow through my extremities and I just stand there. Once my heart rate and breathing quiets, I can hear the rustling of the grass, the distant airplane, the crunching of the gravel shifting under my weight. I can see that sky so blue it doesn’t seem real, and I am filled with a sense of satisfied exhaustion and peace in the present moment. This is the other reason I ride.
The moment is short-lived because now I have an idea about a story and I need to write down a few notes so that I can get the retelling just right. I know that I’ve taken myself out of the moment, but that moment of total presence was so profound that I can carry it with me the rest of the way up the hill.
Now I’ve made it to the top and I am spent. But what lies ahead are gently flowing single-track with nary another climb all the way back to the start. OI backtrack around the open hilltops, then under the highway, then to the tree covered single-track which feels downright icy as the wind catches my sweat-soaked clothes and finally to the big fire trail that started it all. But now it is all downhill and I just get to hang on and work the turns and go easy on the brakes and I am home free.
Sitting in the truck with the bike loaded, gear stowed and nursing what is left of my water, I stared up through the trees in the parking lot at that same blue sky and reflected.
When do we know the right time to push, the right time to rest and the right time for a fresh perspective? I honestly don’t know.
I suppose my answer is that the ride tells us. We follow the trail wherever it leads, we stop when we need to, we push when we want to get through tough times, or make it to the next hilltop. We rest when we have nothing left, and we trust the trail and enjoy the ride as best we can. At least that is what I think today.