You stretch from the car ride and mosey around to the back door of the car. The handy Honda element that transports you and your peeps to trail adventures, (and your crafties to lovely craft fairs with cheerful white tents.) You get the bike out of the car, attach the front wheel, give your tires a squeeze, test the brakes. Everything is ready your trusty steed is by your side. Your crew is there with you, prepping too, finding sunglasses, filling camelbacks, airing up tires. Smiling wide in anticipation of the adventure before you. Everyone is ready, a route is agreed on. One by one, we start rolling. You clip in with your right foot, push off, gliding forward, and clip the left foot in. You start to feel the machine respond beneath you, becoming an extension of your body. Gaining speed, pedaling, you’re not warmed up yet, but your legs are like pistons, pumping rhythmically, doing their job. they know what’s coming. Muscle memory -- doing it’s important work. Your whole body is happy and ready to do this for a few hours. They know they have the strength, there is no doubt. they’re ready, they want it, need it, can't wait for it. The body simultaneously starts to gear up for the action, and relax into the familiar routine. The brain is ready for the release of the weeks troubles and poised for the fun and action ahead. Focusing on the present, watching the trail, looking for the obstacles, you feel your body respond without thinking. Nothing but instinct, sweat, adrenaline and the beauty of the Kettle Moraine forest lie ahead. Pedalling, standing, sitting as needed, leaning into the turns, feathering the brakes here and there, looking ahead, fingers on the brakes. A rocky, rooty challenge presents itself in the distance. You squint, asses the angles, the dryness of the dirt and your speed, it comes together like a puzzle in your brain, you see it, they way through. You’ve picked your line, and pictured in your mind what is about to go down. You approach the pile, time slows down, you adjust your speed on the approach. Not so fast that you’re out of control, but keeping enough momentum to carry you through when the terrain grabs at your tires. You stand on the pedals, squatting a bit, feet parallel, lift the front wheel, shift your weight, lift the back wheel, hang on tight, you’re in charge, you tell the front wheel where to go, and it goes there! You hang on tight through a few bumps worrying for the briefest moment and then.... you’re clear of the pile. You did it! rock on! Adrenaline blows through your body! What a rush!
Confidence, practice, calm and strength got you through it, just like it does with problems at work, like that one yesterday, god damn them, why do they have to make everything so difficult! Another obstacle appears, “bring it” you say. again, you asses the sitch, pick a line through it, you can see yourself riding it. You stand, lift, pedal, steer, and you’re through. “I killed it!” you think, smiling ear to ear! And it was fun! The adrenaline and glow of success has you riding high and feeling great. It was a nice puzzle, you solved it fast, and rode it with finesse. Confidence rises. a few more miles, a few more challenges, you’re in the zone. all the juices are flowing. no more thoughts of work could possibly poke through that!! Brain juices riding high on confidence, sheer joy, and the smell of the woods. Your whole sinewy body is working, every muscle involved, working together with the machine, sweating, breathing hard, heart pumping blood. You feel so good, your body is doing all the things it needs to be healthy, and it’s thanking you for it. Sweating, good for you, pushing toxins out. Your heart pumping blood, hard, great for you, lungs stretching and opening, heaving, taking in clean crisp air, recently cleaned by the trees. Like a well oiled machine you fly through the trees, swooping and diving like a bird.
You see plants, bugs, living things all around, green plants-- growing, bees-- pollinating. Your pistons keep pumping, your soul is in awe of the beauty around you, feeling privileged and amazed to be alive and in this magical place. Your beating heart thumps hard in your chest once again, reminding you of who and what you are. An animal, a collection of bones and muscles. Not that different from bears, squirrels, and insects really. Moving through this world, one of the lucky ones. Sending gratitude skyward, but staying keenly focused on the trail. Challenges on the trail pop up sporadically, some you clean like a pro, a few you walk, mildly irritated, but shaking it off, you’ll get ‘er next time around, you gotta work up to something right? There are always challenges to work on, frustrations to work through, new puzzles to sort out, on the bike and off. You might conquer a few today, but there will always be more ahead. Some you’ll be ready for, some you’ll wing and make it, some you’ll try for and fall. but you’ll pick yourself up and brush yourself off and try again. Just like the rest of life.
For today, right now, this moment, you’re on your bike. In your happy place. It’s a good day, and even a bad day on the bike is better than being at work. You learned that years ago, and stopped letting frustrations on the bike take you down mentally. The trail might still take you down physically, but scabs heal, and you’ve conquered the mental game, which is way more than half the battle.
Your favorite challenge is coming up, the one you’ve been working on. You’ve been walking over it for a year and finally you got it last time! But just barely and it scared the crap out of you. You know what you’re going to do differently this time. You’re getting ready for it and you see it ahead, some scrawny teenage boys standing around it with their bikes strewn to the side. They must be from that school bus you saw in the parking lot. Middle schoolers probably, here to be challenged, get some exercise, and maybe build confidence, some teacher hoping to reach them, get them connected with nature. Well, this is no time to wimp out grrrl, you gotta ride that, there’s people watching! boys no less. Part of their experience today will be seeing a strong woman in her 30’s kick some serious ass on a mountain bike. they look up and see you coming, they shuffle out of the way a little, you smile, never taking your eyes off the trail, you pick your line, stand, pedal, shift, lift the front wheel, shift your weight, pedal, grunt, steer, pedal and you made it! Yes!!! Hell yes!! Woohooo!!! and you keep riding. One of the boys behind you says “Whoa! how’d you’d you do that?!?! “Practice boys! Practice!” you shout over your shoulder. “and the wisdom of a few more years,” you think to yourself, appreciating how awesome your 30’s are going. Stoked to come back next week and clean that section of trail again. Without teenagers hopefully, tho that was kinda fun!
Marvelling at the trees again, you head into a tall pine forest, former farm land, probalby clear cut before that and now with trees planted in straight rows, probably planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps. HISTORY! Right here in front of you. The CCC, a work program that helped pull this country out of the great depression. Wondering if the men who planted these trees know that not only did they help pull themselves and the USA out of depression but that these woods will help me and countless others avoid personal depression too, nature being a therapy and a cure in itself. “more people should get out here, then maybe we wouldn’t need chemicals to try and be happy.” I think as I reflect upon the fact that I’ve made it further in my life without prozac than my mother or grandmother. I send gratitude skyward again as I hop another log.
Humans who lose touch with the fact that they’re animals are lost souls. Humans think way too highly of themselves. If only everyone could see this, and find the humility, the joy and the purpose. My wish for this world, that more people could see how worthwhile it is to find your joy and bask in it regularly. Like vitamins for the soul, hitting our joy button, whatever it is, keeps you healthy, so you can be strong enough to care for yourself and others.
You’re 9 miles in now, only 3 to go. We’ve got all afternoon, no where else to be, so maybe we’ll head out again after regrouping in the parking lot. Andrew will want to head out again for sure. You roll along, the miles melting away behind you. The parking lot rolls into view and you see your group, talking and laughing, they turn and give a little cheer as you roll up. A bunch of adults, sitting on bikes, grinning and giddy like children on halloween. “How’s your ride goin’?” they ask, sparks of excitement in their eyes. “fantastic,” you answer, catching your breath, and sucking on the hose from your hydration pack. “you? good ride?” “Yeah grrrl, love these trails, so fast and flowy. Except for that monster hill! Did you clear that log?”
The conversation trails off into war stories, logs conquered, rocks that almost took us out, spills large and small recounted, scrapes and bruises bandied about proudly, heads shaking, but smiling ear to ear anyhow. Clean honesty, humility and ibuprofen today, these stories will become the proverbial fish tales in the years to come. They’ll keep our confidence up in the week to come as we stare down corporate bullshit and soul sucking meetings, they’ll remind us that there’s more out there, that we are more than our jobs. Weekend warriors maybe, but warriors nonetheless. They’ll be stories we tell when we’re old too, reminding us that we grabbed life by the horns and felt so alive. Gratitude again, spinning upward with each laugh and clink of a beer bottle.
We head back out and do an easier 6 mile loop. Hitting it again, like a good drug that you can’t get enough of. An itch you have to scratch again and again.
Rolling into the lot again, lamenting that it’s over but too sore and tired to ride more. I pull up to the car and start to say something to Andrew. My foot won’t disengage from the pedal and I topple over in the parking lot. “God dammnit!” I yell. “18 miles of nearly flawless mountain biking that almost no one saw and I bail in the parking lot with half of Illinois watching?!?!” Seriously! I can’t believe I just did that! Ha ha, I laugh at myself, shaking my head.
“A reminder” perhaps, to stay humble. Maybe I got too cocky, showing off for the teenage boys? Ahh, who knows... I pick myself off, brush myself off, and put the bike in the car, grinning despite the little spill. We hug and say our good-byes to the riding buddies, promising to do it again soon. We pile in our cars and head back to the city. Tired, happy, utterly wrung out by the glories and failures of the day. The uphills and the downhills, the smooth turns and the craggy rock piles. With the feeling that some kind of balance was surely struck in my soul in the process. Feeling like I hit my personal reset button, and can face work and the niggling details of life again till the next ride, the next fix. We’ll sleep like the dead tonight and dream of dirt, blood, love, beauty, and life. Healthy and happy, bruised and blessed.
(Originally written for Teacher training in 2013.)