Cloud Riding

The clouds were low, and we were high.

Imagine, riding atop fluffy, billowy pillows. You can ride up and down their steep plumes, with no fear of falling, since a poofy soft landing will greet you.

Cloud riding is nothing like this.

Real clouds are wet, damp places. Riding in the clouds is riding in a fog bank, but wetter. Rain falls without falling. Everything is muddy and slick. The rocks are still there.

The good news is you can see where the water flows.

At the beginning of the ride, I was advised, “Water is your friend.” Follow the flow of the water. Watch how the water moves over and through the rocks. This is the path of least resistance. Let it be your guide as you flow down the rocks. Flow like water.

This is much easier on my new full suspension bike, which yields to the rocky surface, making me feel as if I am floating up and down the rocks. I flow over the rocks in my braver moments. Other times when I am not brave I walk and try not to slip on the slick surfaces.

I am flowing over the rocks. This is much easier than on my old bike. Flow. Be the water.

Suddenly I experience an intimate encounter with the rocks below me. Palms and thighs collide with stone. I look behind me, and spot a thick sawed-off madrone branch gently vibrating from the force of its collision with my handlebar.

Damage report: twisted handlebars, a bruised palm, and a heightened awareness for the greenery.

Breaking In

Today was a day to break things in.

A list of things better for the wear after today:

  • A new full-suspension mountain bike.
  • The mountain bike destination closest to my home, Rockville.
  • My left knee and elbow.

I approach the new with caution. When I let the bicycle careen down terrain that gives me pause, I am surprised at the ease with which it rolls over rocks and roots, both up and downhill. So different. No need to stand! Sit, relaxed and solid. Steering-eye-trail coordination is improved, and I doubt the thanks goes to my hapless body-mind. I still walk more than necessary on this new bike-trail site.

The trails are teachable. Their features are diverse, from narrow twists to short steep climbs to rocky descents. A little playground for practice.

My new body-bike survived the first fall, no worse for the wear save some superficial scratches at the joints. Remember, keep pedaling!

Out of True

Last week I replaced two spokes in my rear wheel after an intrusive stick stuck itself where it did not belong–between my rear derailleur and spokes. Luckily, the spokes gave up the ghost before I did, which meant metal bent and broke rather than muscles and bones. I made the repair at Bike Forth, and left with the rear wheel spinning true.

Unfortunately, I forgot a part. You know that moment when you finish putting something together and you feel really proud, only to find a missing part waiting patiently to be put in its proper place? And you have no idea what the proper place is? This was one of those moments. Being the stellar mechanic I am, I shrugged and shoved the silver ring of a spacer in my rear pocket where it was promptly forgotten and  probably spin-cycled.

The next day, I went out on The Ride. This is the Ride I’ve been waiting for, on The Trail that I’ve been thinking and writing about. A Trail Worth Fighting For. Others have called this trail “a work of art,” and I was ready for some culture.

Or so I thought.

The spacer I so casually neglected apparently held my freewheel securely in place. Fortunately, trailside repair kept my bike functional, minus my biggest chain ring in the rear set. Yet another minor technical issue in my bike’s litany of minor technical issues. At least my wheels are true.

Unfortunately, my body was not true this fine sunny day. Something was off. Slightly out of rhythm. Nerve synapses were not quite communicating. Muscles did not respond with their usual speed and power (as slow as that normally is). Eye-steering coordination felt just a bit off. I felt not quite present and slightly out of sync.

Then I fell. This was not spectacular crash. In fact, it was embarrassing in its mundanity. As I was WALKING my bike uphill, I slipped in the mud. Then it happened again. I laughed it off both times, though with a tinge of annoyance the second time.

Then I fell again. This time I was riding on a wide open fire road. I managed to nudge my front wheel into the one crevice along this ten-foot wide trail and awkwardly fall to the side, bruising my palm in the process. Bad falling technique.

The next fall was spectacular, both in execution and aesthetics. Braking synapses were still off-kilter, either too strong or too weak. Never just right. Add to this my less-than-true eye-steering coordination and the stage was set for devastation. The only thing that could save me was my refined falling skills.

Over the bike and into the deep loamy soil. I landed heavy on my left side. Later evidence of bruises and scratches indicated that my lower lip, and left breast, forearm and thigh took the brunt of the fall.

Though this crash affirmed the strength of my falling skills, it did nothing to bring my riding body into true. I awkwardly stuttered down what might possibly be the most wonderfully flowy trail I’ve ever ridden. This day, I could only experience the flow visually and intellectually, an as-if flow of an imagined rider much more attuned than my own stumbling bike-body.

I can see flow on trails such as this, but I cannot be flow.

Training. Regimented practice. Repetition. Attuning your attention to the one place most out of sync and making tiny, balanced refinements. Give it another spin. Another tiny refinement that requires the utmost attention. Only this and nothing else can exist when truing the body. Over and over, over and over. Cultivate attentive relaxation. Another way of saying flow?

What they don’t tell you about flow is that the getting there can be unbearably mundane. And exacting. Particularly for a body out of true.

Century flowering

See those long pointed leaves, growing in little clumps? That’s right, they’re all over scattered throughout the lupines, locoweeds, larkspur…one of those purple “l” flowers. Now see that one over there with the stem taller than you? With all the little white flowers? That’s the century flower in its last gasps of life. They live for 75-100 years before flowering in full glory. Then they die. That’s right, see all those tall brown sticks, cracked and bent? That’s last year’s crop, this glorious specimen’s future.

After a long gasping climb, it’s easy to feel as if these beautiful blooming flowers are just for me. The chemicals coursing through my body enhance the beauty of the vista and these singular blooms. I know they bloom careless to my life, my climb, my concerns. But maybe that’s why they make me feel special. They are for me in their negligence of me. It’s a gasping beauty that doesn’t give a damn. It doesn’t care about my straining muscles, my beating heart. My brake-clutching descent and mud-slipping crash will not change anything out here, save wearing away the soil my tires and my bleeding leg pick up and take home.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Crested Butte downtown to Strand Hill to Strand Hill Bonus and back to town.

15 miles?

With Chuck R.