Monday, January 5, 2009

Bridges and Scales

For those of you who have been following this blog for a while, you've seen that my stories of late have been of a different nature. My thoughts turned toward a different light, my words molded more by emotion than deed. It has been hard to get out for even a short ride. When there has been free time, the motivation has often been absent, certainly not enough for a hill-climb session or daring escapade down to the river. We must have the right mind to do well. Perhaps if I had been stronger I might have been able to do it all. Perhaps next time around, weathered and tempered by these times, I will know how to manage the roots and rocks of life with more elegance and focus.

Most of my rides have been of the mental health variety, composed of equal parts tooling around and reflection. The majority of my time was spent on the the small dirt road network near my father's house, and then mostly repeating the one section of trail that has some decent tech. It's decent compared to nothing, which is most of the trails here, but a smooth ride for Boston's Middlesex Fells. I'd forgotten how tame the trails around Grass Valley are. In my memories, there were chasms, trolls under bridges, avalanches and mythic beasts to be bested. Like most things that require patience, attention and practice, it seemed a whole lot more difficult when I was younger. That's not to say I didn't try - I used to get torn up regularly, I'm just much more practiced at getting torn up now.

The practice on the tech section of the single-track has been fruitful. It's kind of like perfecting scales on a guitar or piano. If the Breck Epic trails are variations of the bridge-root-bridge theme, then I'm all set. I'll try to elaborate on the subtleties of this bit of trail that has been the focus of my attention for the last week or so. The section I'm describing is shown in the pic. The elevation does not come through so well, but it's an approximate 8 foot drop from the top of the far side to the bridge at the bottom. The second bridge is hidden behind the rise with the roots, and is considerably more narrow than the trail. As with many tech sections, there is little relation between the feel and flow of the ride in opposite directions.

Approaching this section from the point of vantage in the pic, there is about a 6 foot drop to the bridge. It's really a rather simple matter to cut to the left, scoot the roots, roll the hump, and jog to the right and across the bridge. The most difficult part of this section was in exiting the tech on the far side into the steep uphill ramp of about 4 feet. Often, I would feel the speed getting sucked out of my bike as I entered the part of the trail with the largest curvature. Riding this section gracefully essentially comes down to a smooth shift of weight. Standing off the saddle slightly entering the upward curvature, you can compress into the saddle as the ground begins to shove you upward. As simple as it is, there were only a handful of times I thought I really nailed this section. Perfection does not come easy.

Riding the section in reverse is in much more direct, no dodging roots. My main obstacle with this one was all mental. Sure you can just roll the roots and slam across the bridge. But like music, riding is not just about hitting the right notes, you have to feel the connections. I found my style with this section by first picturing my niece bouncing off the walls and floors absent of any fear of falling, cruising into the far drop with a good head of steam, taking a slow breath, rising off the saddle, launching off the root saying farewell to the ground and doubt, then feeling the weight of reality again, thrusting the legs down to land rear wheel first (is this technically a wheelie drop? I'm still not quite sure what I'm doing, though it feels pretty awesome, kind of like sex the first time), cruising to the top of the rise with a score of four exhilarated strokes.

I'm pretty sure I grew a day younger every time I rode this. By my reckoning, I left behind about two months on this section. Getting free of the ground, even if only momentarily, is true medicine. Some say cycling is a metaphor for life, and some nutty old Frenchmen say that life is a metaphor for le Tour. While one could draw a metaphor about my breaking free of the ground, the essence of this is a simple act of being, immersion in the moment, playing with and confronting fear.


Anonymous said...

Dude, that's one crazy root there.

The Pedal said...

I'm not sure if you mean

"that's *one* crazy root"
"that's one *crazy* root"

Hey, I'm not claiming I'll be taking on Sam Hill anytime soon. It's tough to let go of the earth, especially for a roadie.