Renegades of Mountain Biking Debuts

Video work is amazing and impressive. It’s something I wish I could do better. Thankfully, wonderful people such as Zak Long at the University of California Office of the President do a great job at making films. Zak made a film about my research that I am thoroughly impressed by. Happy viewing!


Wild Writing

I cannot tame my writing. I create outline after outline, yet the words always leak out the edges and send out tendrils in new directions that raise more questions. I try to introduce a short anecdote to demonstrate what I am saying, but then that story starts talking a blue streak and leads into a whole other place, unexpected and organizationally confusing. And yet I cannot let go of these tangents. They reveal more and the unexpected places they take me unfold the world as a beautifully complex place.


But there must be structure. An argument. An overriding theoretical intervention. It cannot be implied, and some things must be spelled out. There must be a narrative.

So I try again. Cut and paste together another structure. Just focus on stitching the edges together. Think of it as breadcrumb trails, dropping in words where they are needed to lead the reader along the path. But this implied that I know the way, when in reality there are so many interesting junctions, and how do I decide which way to turn? Decide I must, for if not, the readers run wild and sometimes miss the most interesting vantage point. Sometimes it is necessary to say, “Look, look here!” Acknowledge the lovely side trails, but we cannot investigate these whole woods in a single day.

Trudge and tarry, trudge and tarry. This is one way to proceed along the trail. Rather than trudging, can I dance, or skip, or otherwise make my merry way? Maybe, perhaps at times. But if there is one thing I have learned from my years of long distance running is that the trudge has its virtues too. Trudges require endurance, and a willingness to push through some rather uncomfortable moments. This pace tends to be slower, but also opens up the vistas of a journey slowly, one solid step at at time. Trudging can also lead to wild places. In fact, a solid steady trudge is more likely to lead to those places worth going, and yet few may find on their breathless dancing way, for they grew weary long ago what with all the energy of skipping along. But the trudgers, they can tarry in places of dancer’s dreams.

Perhaps I need to balance between the slow march and the exuberant dance. Enjoy the exultation of surprising lines of flight, but remember to slow down and come back to the reassuring slow shuffle of prosaic prose. Because I am not on this journey alone. I carry other people’s stories. I am scouting paths along which others will follow. If my route is too rough or unexpected, my readers may get lost, and then what kind of guide am I?

Remember the best ride leaders. They create a route that leads to lovely and sometimes unexpected places. Long, arduous climbs are rewarded with secret caches of just-right sitting places with gorgeous views. On the way down, options are discussed, but ultimately the leader picks and takes us down descents suitable for the audience. The more adept can fly with glee, while others stumble gingerly, still learning. A good ending to rides can sometimes be the trickiest part. Too technical isn’t always good, since people may be tired and make dangerous mistakes. Nobody likes a boring road slog to get back to where they began, and going back over the hills again can be daunting. So finding the right cool-down flow back is key. Take the riders somewhere that keeps them on their toes in a relaxed, leisurely way. A way that allows for sure but easy breathing.

Now write…

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.

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.

Somnambulistic Reflection

A Methodology for Reading D&G

Reading A Thousand Plateaus can be a confusing and potentially frustrating experience. Readers often complain that they do not understand precisely what the authors are talking about, or what the point of the whole thing is anyways. I know often in my own experience I find myself thinking, “What in the world do they mean by strata? Plane of consistency? What is all this nonsense about anyways?” So I try to read in a looser, more flexible way. I let the words wash over me. I pay more attention when a phrase strikes me, but not too much attention lest I get caught up on concerns of precisely sorting out the difference between content and expression. If there is one thing D&G know how to do, it is to name things. The defining of things, not so much. This can be frustrating, to put it mildly.

Luckily, I stumbled upon the ideal method for encountering this esoteric text. I have a particular talent that lends itself to this methodology known within the medical world as idiopathic hypersomnulance. In everyday terms this means, “you are really sleepy, and we don’t know why.”

As I sit at the table diligently plowing through Prof. Challenger’s lecture, I surreptitiously slip out the side door into a less linear narrative that complements his style quite nicely. Strata slide into new assemblages that revolve around a wagon wheel spinning and bumping rhythmically along a trail that is both over and in the strata. It wobbles along terrain, bumpy and uneven, but with a flow that suddenly slips and flies off into a gully unseen from the original angle of view.

I jolt back to the room as my eyelids fly open and encounter the white page with black text adorned with a few stray marks of purple lines, placed practically randomly upon the page. Probably the best way to situate them. I make a new mark in blue. Those knees. Yes, I like the knees. Imagine breaking to make this articulation. We break trail to make a new possibility. Destruction is perhaps then simply planes of consistency reaching stratum for new assemblages. I mean, look at where our dear professor ends up when this is all said and done.

Signifiers and signs blur and disarticulate. This feels so cozy and familiar. I’d forgotten the pleasure of the slipping away, of watching the world remove itself from its banal congruity and take on more surprising and simple forms. The comfort of nothing more than the eyes, barely open. The next word on the page. What was it? Time becomes elastic, measured in eye-beats. One. Substratum. Two. Divisions of stratum. Three. (hold onto the phrase. Don’t move the eyeballs while they are closed. It’s easier to find the word again then with little effort) Four. Stratum.  And so on this trance reading slips between the black figures on the page and illustrative assemblages behind closed eyelids.

“Hello.” Eyes shoot open. Smile. Greetings. I look down. “woman-bow-steppe assemblage?” Of course. Like my body-bike-terrain assemblage.

And so you can see that this method of somnambulistic reflection offers much promise to the scholar seeking to read with D&G in a manner befitting their style.

Rhythms to Learn By

When learning music, repetition is important. This is likely why my housemate plays the same song over and over. I’m not complaining. I like the song, and he’s pretty good. He also plays a version of the same song sometimes while he’s cooking dinner. This is the song.

Repetition teaches bodily rhythms. Rhythms live in bodies. Perhaps this is why when we rode our bikes onto Wagon Wheel, a trail named after the old wooden wheel found during its creation, this song popped in my head.

More precisely, the words for the refrain of this song popped in my head.

As the song played in my head, I found comfort in its rhythm as I maneuvered the curves of the single track. I started softly singing aloud.

Wagon Wheel
Rock me mama like a wagon wheel
Rock me mama any way you feel
Hey, mama rock me.
Rock me mama like the wind and the rain
Rock me mama like a southbound train
Hey, mama rock me. 

Over and over my lips repeated the refrain as my bike rolled over the terrain without stutters and stops. The lessons of music repetition flowed into arms, legs, nerves, and balance. Perhaps the music simply distracted me from over-thinking my riding. Perhaps it made me ride more in muscle-memory moments than in fearful what-ifs.

Regardless, I plan to keep singing.

Maintaining flow

Tamarancho always teaches me about flow. It teaches me how trails are built to flow and how I can teach my body to flow. It is my test flow, you might say.

I approach the switchback. Climbing from this angle, the approach is tricky. I choose to swing outside the six-inch ledge grown from a root crossing the trail. The ideal line would take me right over this obstacle. I am not confident enough in my strength to take this line, so I hope my handling skills can help me swing around the tight corner requisite for my chosen line. I turn the front wheel hard to the right. I falter. Unclip and my foot is on the ground before I know what happened.

I did not try sufficiently. My confidence is shaky after the fall ten minutes ago.

Two men emerge from the turn above me. Trailshapers.

Fifteen minutes later the logs and root are gone. I ride the turn with ease and exuberance. My flow is restored. This is one rare case where in a short period of time it is the trail that changes in order to make flow. Most often it is bodies, sometimes bicycles.

Skilled elation

I rode the same trails two days in a row. This particular trail is probably the most technical (legal) riding in Marin county with a few nice rock gardens and numerous tight switchbacks. The first day riding I cruised along in a higher gear than in the past, and made a number of problem areas that I hadn’t in the past. I swung around corners with less braking. In short, I rode more confidently. The next day, I rode the same loop. Faster and better. I found myself giggling and vaguely delirious. I thought, this feels familiar, yet slightly frightening. Then, I realized this was how I often felt running. But now I was going faster. The sensation left my lightheaded, such that periodically I had to stop and catch my breath, or my mind, or whatever part of me it was that seemed not quite in my body. I felt immensely present and yet not quite safe. Excitedly reckless, yet still cautious. This was a new sensation, and I wanted us to get a little more familiar with each other before we took things too far. My skill made this newfound emotion possible, but was my newfound emotion equal to my skill? In short, could my skill keep up with my feelings? Could my reactions match my euphoria? What if I got too excited and just careened into the ravine? Over-enthusiasm can land you in the hospital.

Tamarancho loop

Day one with father and son, Day two chasing two fast men.

Not a champion

First, I dawdled on the computer.

Then, I slowly got dressed.

Then, it looked like rain.

Then, my rear brake cables weren’t working right.

Then, I said, this is pathetic. Just go ride.

Then, I almost turned back early in case the sun set in record time.

Then, I started riding faster.

And faster.

Less braking.

More cranking.

Ah! Flowy! I get it!

Cranking + knowing the trail + feeling good + a send of urgency – braking = better flow

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Lower lower loop & upper lower loop, 9 miles?