- “Even with speed it is essential that the mind does not stop.” Takuan Soho
“If a man strikes at [the beginner] with the sword, he simply meets the attack without anything in mind. As he studies … and is taught … where to put his mind, his mind stops in many places. … Later, as days pass and time piles up, in accordance with his practice, neither the postures [or ways] are weighed in his mind. His mind simply becomes as it was at the beginning.” Takuan Sōhō, The Mysterious Record of Immovable Wisdom.
On a recent group ride, I tackled a local legend – the eponymous feature on the Liberty Mountain Dam Trail. I had concluded that it was pretty straightforward from one side at least. It required only full commitment. So I said to Scott as we bypassed the one end, headed up the ravine. The blue sky peered through the leafless canopy above. The 8″-wide concrete wall stretched across the ravine from trail to trail, reaching a maximum height of 4′ on the uphill side and maybe 5′-6′ on the other. Checking my head as we rolled closer, I slowed, turned onto the line and went for it.
This chutzpah stems from my new focus on the bike, wood work. Fortunately for my health and finances, I live in the Blue Ridge and not the Northwest. Yet the key to survival and success is the same on bridges, skinnies and “up-in-the-air” riding of all heights. Oh, I hear your skepticism. I remember reading about this free-climber (those who climb massive rock faces without ropes or attachment) saying that most people can walk across a 2X4 set up between two cinder blocks, ergo most of us could walk across the same board 100′ in the air. In both cases it’s a question of would not could; we have the necessary ability.
Focus on the end goal to ride elevated features
Look at the singletrack that you ride regularly. Do you often veer off the trail because you are unable to follow that thread of dirt? This is important, because I’m not suggesting a “Just Do It” or “No Fear” outlook. I am suggesting that if you’ve ridden singletrack for years, advancing your skills, then you have what it takes to ride contraptions and obstructions when you encounter one. They are just elevated editions of the challenges you ride on the ground.
“Technique and principle are just like the two wheels of a cart.” Takuan Sōhō, The Mysterious Record of Immovable Wisdom.
Fear, that old fox
Right, you say, but I’m not riding onto that log or that bridge. Right, I say – the next time I rolled up to the Dam, I wouldn’t do it. Por que no? It may be that old fox, Fear. Sneaking around whispering vile lies about how you’ll never this, and who are you to try that?
“(Come in under the shadow of this red rock), and I will show you something different from either your shadow at morning striding behind you or your shadow at evening rising to meet you; I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland
So, how do you defeat fear? You don’t. Fear is a natural reaction to things perceived different and dangerous. That gives us two points to with which to work.
1. Fear is not be feared – just because you’re scared doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Think in cardio terms. Many people stop pushing themselves when they are out of breath or when their heart is hammering. Bikers know that we can keep pushing further. In fact, we will need to if we want to achieve our cycling goals. This applies to fear too. Accept the fear and ride through it. Following my backing away from it, I approached the dam on another ride and rode across it again, fearing the entire time that I would not make it. I rode through the fear.
2. Features are not different than technical trails – The technicality of features is not any different nor much more dangerous than a challenging singletrack section. It is only in our perception that they differ greatly. And in the level of commitment required – like a steep, sketchy downhill. Focus on the end of the feature and onto where you want your front wheel to go – not where it is currently.
“The gnarlier the line is, the more speed you need and the more you must commit. … When the going gets really steep and silly, braking screws up your bike’s handling, and you can’t really slow down anyway. You just have to surrender yourself to the hill.” Mastering Mountain Bike Skills.
I can tell you, from personal experience, that the reward of pushing your personally-set-limits is immensely satisfying. And once you succeed a few times you will begin to see the trails and places you ride in a new light. New options will appear to you and it will spice up your riding. As you continue practicing pushing yourself, you will move past methodically thinking it through, and like the warrior in the opening quote, you will find yourself riding these features without even having to think about it. Happy Trails, amigos.
Don’t miss – Of Zen and Mountain Biking Part I & Part III (Coming Soon)
For Stanley, Christa, Darren and Dig, who tolerated my early bike-borne Zen ravings.
© Big Mountain Riding