Thursday, September 20, 2018

Bikes in the forest

Since coming to the island I have started to cycle the forest trails with a group of women on Sunday mornings.  For a rider accustomed to the flat, paved cycling lanes of Richmond, an island city in the Fraser River delta system, it has been a shock to the system (and to my bicycle!). 

The trails are full of dips and curves, roots and rocks.  Sometimes the hills are so steep that standing up makes my back wheel spin out from under me and I have to sit down to keep moving through loose gravel or bark (I really need to trade in my city street rain tires for knobby off-road tires!).  Sometimes the salal grows so close on each side that the trail disappears and I have to keep my eyes ahead and forge on through, trusting that my tires will find purchase and that my forward momentum will get me through.  I have at times seen an upcoming root or rock and thought, "No way can I navigate through this," but I'm going fast enough and the riders ahead of me have done it so I launch myself through it.  Sometimes I even make it without crashing.

A few weeks ago I was feeling more off-balance than usual, seeing that the trail curved tightly between two small trees but unable to pour my bicycle through the gap without sailing off into blackberry brambles.  I hauled my bike back on the trail by the handlebars, brushed the leaves off my shirt and climbed back on.  Within minutes, I was concentrating on avoiding a rock when I missed another turn and landed (more softly) in the salal. By this time my fingers ached from my tight grip and I forced myself to concentrate on the trail. We plunged on through the bushes, vines reaching out to grab my handlebars, branches scraping my legs.  We climbed, panting, up another hill, and I felt my back tire skid.  I looked down at the rounded rocks of the trail and felt myself careen off into the bush again.

The woman behind me was patient and tactful.  She stopped, waited until I was ready to start off again and said mildly, "I was told that if you look where you want to go instead of where you are, you will find your way through. It's a way of trusting yourself and your bike."
Cycling crew

"Huh," I answered, too breathless and frustrated to say more. I would try it.  Look ahead, I thought, not down.  Trust myself, trust my bike.

As we took off again, I tried to take her advice.  I was so accustomed to watching the obstacles just in front of me that it was a conscious effort to look beyond them.  I forced my eyes to see ahead to the open trail, through the curve and between two close trees that resembled a needle to be threaded by me and my bike.  But this time my hands were looser on my grips, my stance on my bike more relaxed.  And without quite knowing what had happened, I was through, gliding along the wide pathway, lifting my eyes to look ahead.

We stopped for a water break, and I marvelled to the group what a difference it made.  They nodded.  Tensing up and looking down, they agreed, was a sure way to end up where you don't want to be.

Tiny cottage and bike
That afternoon I sat down at my desk and looked over my new writing project.  I corrected little typos and wordy phrasing, moved some details to the other end of a sentence. I started a new paragraph, my hands tensing over the keyboard, my words stumbling on each other.  What was this sentence adding to the narrative momentum, I thought, and erased it.  The cursor blinked.  Come on, come on, get the sentence down.  My phone whistled and I turned to it in relief.  Texted pictures from this morning's ride.  I thought about what I'd learned from my cycling group.  Look where you want to be, not where you are.

My fingers relaxed and the words stuttered and then began to flow.  I knew where I was going -- writing was just a trail to get there.  Full of knots and roots and rocks, of course, but if I kept my eyes on my destination, trusted myself and my story, I would stay on the path.  My fingers began to fly and soon I was blasting downhill to a chapter end.  Euphoria twice in one day.

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