Getting my Bearings
An early morning bike ride leads me up the winding climb and into quiet solitude of the forest. This trail network doesn’t see as many riders—exactly what I was searching for. I brought my bear spray today, I considered that to be a better option than punching a bear in the nose in an effort to save Kula…
I’ve chosen a technical double-black trail this morning. I’m working towards mastering all the features here. Cruising down the trail I’m faced with a series of drops, an a-frame that takes me over a fallen down tree, and a swooping downhill gap jump where—for a moment—I can fly over my worries. I reconnect with the open and pure space where life is once again vivid and magical. It’s really hard to feel sad or stressed when you’re doing something you love, with your best friend galloping along beside you.
Mountain biking grounds me in the present, the fear I feel when it’s technical and risky, the need to control my breath, and the intense focus required. Riding isn’t predictable and the fact you have to be aware of something bigger than yourself is really great for distracting you from whatever else is going on in your life.
Bear your Soul
Stopping to appreciate the silence and beauty of the forest, I watch the trail dust dance through the morning sunshine. Resting my hand softly on the glowing green moss covering a tree, I try not to disturb this peaceful moment the forest offers me. Along life’s journey you come to care deeply for what you find along the way, and you begin to understand it’s the small moments we will cherish most in the end. Often fleeting, it would be beneficial to find a way to retain the sweetness of the memory without letting the pain of it ending break us. This is perhaps the greatest challenge for the saddened heart, and its greatest achievement.
As my eyes well with tears, the forest colours blur into an impressionist painting. Heartache has the capacity to colour and inhabit the depths of your mind and the corners of your soul. The beautiful sincerity of being human, and yet we treat it like a problem to be solved, rather than seeing it as a revealing portrait of our most tender side. The depth of our care — for a person, for an accomplishment, for belonging. In these times, we need to look longer than we normally would. Study their face—this person whom we may find fun and sweet has another layer to their being that you may have never seen. A particular colouration that only in this light, teaches us, touches us, or brings us closer than we’ve ever been.
Grin and Bear it
I prefer to be alone in the woods when I’m feeling sad. The only place I can unearth my honest feelings and reroot my thoughts. You can attempt to bury your feelings, but they will always find their way to the surface.
As I approach the next big trail feature, I stop to assess the line and think of a solution. It’s a nearly vertical rock roll into a short transition and another steep roll after that. I’ve ridden this before, but the terrain has shifted into a dusty and loose death shoot. The tricky part will be creeping into the entrance and controlling the bikes trajectory, while feathering the brakes through the gravel and chunder so you don’t send yourself into the trees. The conditions this morning mean I need to be inch-perfect because there’s basically no time to correct as you pickup momentum into the second roll.
Thinking through the problem only gives insight into part of my dilemma. The knowledge that we often need cannot be given solely by physics or intellect. Knowledge of the heart is equally important — from its experience and pains, its triumphs and growth. The inner knowing — you know you can do it or you can’t. The same can be said for the soul, friendship and love… knowing comes through the heart and not through logic.
I think non-riders assume mountain biking is just launching yourself towards every incoming death trap, but we actually incrementally work our way up to these things. We become intimately familiar with different types of terrain and generally have a good idea of what to expect—what we can or cannot do. When you have a lot of experience in a certain area, the brain has more information to match the current experience against. This makes your intuitions more reliable. We trust our skills in the moment; our emotions and our feelings as a way to make good decisions.
Yet, even when trusting your heart and mind, there are still going to be moments of unpredictability and mystery. Failures are inevitable but just as in mountain biking, if you love something you keep coming back and you work on it, despite the risk. The thrill is in your wholehearted effort; to savour the moment, to plunge into the unknown, to express yourself, to overcome the odds—occasionally cleaning a super technical line.
Breaking through Bear-iers
Over the course of your descent down the trail, things begin to flow and create a deepened sense of joy and ease. Your smile is wide, your heart is racing; it’s a moment to cherish—and then suddenly, the trail ends—How do we let go of this thing that brought us such joy and pleasure?
If you knew the trail would come to an abrupt end, would you have ridden it any differently? A delicate problem centred on the balance between two dynamic and often opposing desires. Pleasure and sadness, achievement and failure are so tied together that the more of one you get, the more of the other you’re likely to experience. The bigger the trail features you conquer, the more likely you’ll bite the dust. The more you cherish something, the more pain you’ll experience letting go. The more you open your heart, the greater chance it will be broken.
If we attempt to avoid all pain, we will also diminish the capacity for joy. The barrier to experiencing a full and rich life lies in giving your all to the present.