Linear Revolutions : Mountain Biking and my mind
Revolution after revolution. The turn of the cranks, the revolution of the wheel. The bicycle is a physical manifestation of continual spinning. Each revolution is progress, linear direction. Pedaling allows one to move forward; ascending mountains, traversing canyons circumnavigating vast expanses of terrain. The machine is powered by breath. The repeated push of muscles drives the bike forward, spinning the gears. Inhale, pedal, exhale, pedal. Repeat. Physics becomes a tool of mastery, adjustments in gears can increase speed or ease the force required to gain steep hills. Shifts in body weight and amount of energy input into a pedal stroke can be used to lift the bike up and over obstacles. The cyclic machine moves forward with the synchrony of gear, breath, and push. The rider locks into rhythm with the terrain and topography to smooth out the ride and work with the mountain to reach the top.
This motion and synchronicity allows me to let go of my thoughts and detach from the larger circles in life. The day to day – the revolution of the earth about its axis becomes linear. The years and revolutions around the sun dissolve into direction and meaning that I control . While cycling, my mind reaches peace with the choice we have in our directionality. Letting go of these otherwise over burdening revolutions allows my mind to choose avenues to focus on. During these moments of directionality, I choose where my mind goes. Ideas for new experiments, manuscripts, or even clarity in personal relationships come at ease to the freed mind. The race of progress is exhilarating, and the top of every climb a landmark – goals are achieved. Biking brings me to this place of peace and mindfulness, biking is my mala.
Directionality implies that you are heading somewhere. Despite the constant spinning and cyclic of nature of bicycling, this movement takes you places. I often find myself traveling through endless stretches of forest to remote vistas on my bicycle. Ten miles one way is a full day commitment hiking, but with just a couple hours in the morning I can ascend a mountain and come home in time for breakfast before work. The distance I can cover on a bike allows me to better understand and connect with where I live – I can circumnavigate mountains, canyons, and beyond on a bicycle. To me, the true beauty of this distance lives in the token of the constant revolution that allows one to achieve it. In less than half a month I can circumnavigate the mountainous terrain of Colorado. The simple use of physics combined with the strength of body and mind propel me and my bicycle to far reaching places.
Much like a bicycle, the universe seems to operate on a circular, yet directional path. Ecosystems proceed through cyclic paths of succession, over and over. Yet, especially in the light of contemporary science and climate change, there appears to be a directional trajectory to ecosystems and Earth processes as well. The revolutions move along paths bringing about change to their cyclic nature. No two years are truly alike, no two successional pathways never identical, each turn brings about something new. This movement towards something seems daunting, partially because it feels out of our control, however, understanding the revolutions and the directions, each turn and bump, allows us to come back to where we once were, most of the time. Other times, we have to learn to be adaptable and cope with change by embracing it.
The tops of climbs are always exhilarating, - what goes up, must come down. Descending on a mountain bike, always seems horrifying at first. One has to use their body to control the bicycle, shifting one's hips to direct its path and compressing legs and body to smoothen the traverse over rocks, roots and jumps. The bicycle provides some aid in the process, but the rider does the work. Using hips and body weight to pump through topography, gaining speed with gravity and ease. Mountain bike descents are rich with choices. The rider picks lines and prepares the proper plan of action for getting over obstacles quickly and smoothly, constantly reading trail ahead of them while acting to gain obstacles already once predicted. At times, rocks and ruts appear previously unnoticed, they can physically direct us off course or even cause a crash. It is the ability to adapt that helps us prevent a wreck. This constant preparation for the future while acting on the present seems parallel to so many facets of life.
Adaptation means adjusting accordingly for unexpected challenges. In biking, it is adjusting your balance, direction of travel and center of gravity that matters most. Though, the advice seems relevant to other walks as well. As a plant and soil ecologist buried in research about climate change – adaptation means recognizing that we will make mistakes, preparing for many different types of challenges, replace roots and rocks with droughts and intense deluges. Adaptation means we learn from our failures to make a more informed decision about future actions. In this light, adaptation also tells us not too over react and dramatize our correction, because in biking, we learned that will cause a crash. It seems appropriate that in the sciences, much like a trail, we are attempting to understand a multitude of obstacles and how they interact with one another so we can glide over them with ease. Our mistakes in understanding these challenges have the potential to devastate us and steer us of course, but they also have the potential to teach us invaluable lessons and strengthen our understanding of the world.
Unfortunately, crashes happen. They can physically destroy us, tearing our flesh or shattering bones; almost more powerful they can devastate us mentally. They can shred our confidence and crush our self-esteem. They can send shockwaves of tension and anxiety through our body. Failure to release this anxiety can be detrimental, muscle tension can create shaky, sudden movements and jerky reactions to abrasions. These drunken gestures can contribute quickly to another crash. Resilience means we accept the anxiety and learn why it was there. We recognize the cause of our crash and aim to improve the weakness in our riding. We bounce back, often a stronger rider and proceed with a new perspective. Depending on the magnitude of the injury we even step back and gain distance from cycling. In our lapse from cycling we commit to mental training and physical training to deal with stress and keep our bodies on track. We dedicate ourselves to what we need, so when we get back on the back we quickly regain strength and confidence. This analog is how I deal with anxiety in life at large.
Resilience is a lesson mountain biking has taught me better than anything. Stress from work, school, and life in general can manifest in my body. Holding tension during mountain biking holds the potential for damaging consequences, the same holds true in my life off the saddle. I utilize as many tools I have to learn to let go of my tension and anxiety. I release it in my body so that I can bike better, so that I can live better. I have learned to cope with my tension on the trails in ways that helps me release anxiety at work and in my relationships. I have learned to control my stress in healthy and constructive ways and biking has been an invaluable but not stand alone tool in this. Letting go of tension is truly a liberating experience.