By Laura Gosset
Reflections on mountain biking as a metaphor for living
It has been said that happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory. Honestly, it must be true. I’m exceedingly healthy and happy, but my memory is abysmal. How could I have forgotten the delicious joy I’d felt riding a bike as a child? But I had, that is until I started mountain biking.
I came late to the party. As a woman of mature vintage (make that fifty plus... maybe a few more), I finally succumbed to peer pressure from my girlfriends and bought a mountain bike. I’d been a roadie (that’s cycling lingo for devoted road cyclist) for decades, but trust me - mountain biking is a different sport entirely.
As an adolescent, my bike represented freedom. I have a distant recollection of my childhood self hurtling down a grassy hill astride the banana seat of my trusty CCM Mustang, hell-bent on flying off the end of a dirt jump near the bottom. With each pedal forward, I left behind adult authority without a backward glance. Slaloming between trees with a light breeze tickling my cheeks and an “I can do anything” grin plastered on my face, I felt breathtaking exhilaration during those youthful moments on two wheels. On my mountain bike, I felt just like that kid again.
Before long, my girlfriends and I were barrelling through the forest on ever-narrowing trails marked by winding turns. With only a hint of what was beyond the next bend, I was hopping over rocks, ruts and gnarly roots and gliding down single-track so soft with moss or mud, I barely felt it beneath me.
Alas, it’s not all about the rush of speed. You’ve got to go up to go down! It’s simple physics. But long, lung-crushing climbs were rewarded by meadows dotted with wild flowers, rushing streams to cross and those oh so sweet, intoxicating descents that made me want to whoop in elation – the beautiful essence of riding a bike surrounded by nature.
By its very character, the sport is all about exploration and risk-taking. In the words of Helen Keller, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” As the branches and landscape whipped by, it struck me that mountain biking is a pretty good analogy for life. In both cases the greatest rewards often follow the most difficult efforts.
Just as in life, the mind must constantly be calculating whether to go over or around each approaching obstacle. The mantra “Look where you want to go and pick your line,” couldn’t be closer to the truth. Distraction, hesitation, indecision or failure to choose the right path can plunge a mountain biker headfirst over the handlebars, affectionately called the “endo” in mountain bike circles. I know, I’ve picked plenty a leaf out of my helmet. Making critical choices quickly and looking ahead, not back or down, can carry you across almost anything you’ll encounter on the trail and in life.
Rolling up to the edge of a sheer drop, there are two possibilities: stop dead and, with heart pounding and two fists full of brake, dismount and drag your bike down to the trail below - vowing to come back and beat it another day; or, throw caution to the wind and fly over the drop in triumph. You won’t know your limits until you push yourself past them. Taking that leap of faith, whether on the bike or in your day-to-day life, can set you up to soar. In both cases, the key is distinguishing a true leap of faith from sheer stupidity.
Disaster strikes in mountain biking when you lose concentration. In my case it was just a broken finger, but ouch...almost a year later, my distended digit is still too swollen for my wedding rings. You can’t afford to be thinking about a problem at work, making a grocery list or congratulating yourself on how brilliantly you managed that last bit of single-track. By the way, that’s my own personal nemesis – gloating with glee over conquering an obstacle prematurely.
To navigate the mean rocks, wily roots and tight corners of the trail in front of you, you have to have laser focus. Everything else – all the obstacles life throws your way – magically disappear. It’s the perfect form of meditation and therein lies the beauty; living in the moment. Nothing else matters.
It’s true. Falling hurts – so does failing. But whether it’s in life or mountain biking, you have to get up, dust off, learn from your mistakes, jump back on, then hang on for dear life and, in all your mud-splattered, sweat-soaked glory...embrace your inner child and enjoy the ride!