I love my bike. It’s an old-school Kona Hahana mountain bike, and we’ve shared lots of adventures over our eleven years together. I’ve thrown it down the side of a hill in a tantrum in the Lake District, cycled to Devon on it using my Dad’s OS maps from the 1970s (discovering too late that many of the depicted country roads are now dual carriage-ways, doh), kicked it on more than one occasion (more tantrums – it’s a love-hate relationship…), stroked it lovingly on many occasions as we’ve shared a peaceful sunset somewhere beautiful after an awesome ride (now I sound weird), found myself in a bloody heap underneath it more times than I care to remember, especially in those early days of getting to grips with my SPDs (weird biking shoes that clip into the pedals, rendering you effectively attached to the bike; a fact that is easy to forget at first, leading to embarrassing slow motion sideways falls at traffic lights). Anyway, it’s been a blast.
As such, I have been feeling increasingly like a guilty, bad owner as I pass my bike in the garage, sadly mud-free. I can almost hear it sigh with disappointment every time I take to the saddle, only to end up trundling along a tarmac road a short distance to the supermarket or a yoga class again. “Where’s the single-track? Where’s the danger?” I hear it cry, shaking its pedals angrily. I also feel bad every time I return from a surf trip and re-install my board in the garage next to it, as though I’ve become an unfaithful partner, turning my affections to a newer, more fun model.
So, it was with a joyous, knowing twinkle in my eye that I took it out of the garage this Sunday, ignoring its silent reprimands, and chucked it into the back of a friend’s van. Getting muddy on my bike on some proper off-road single-track has been one of my new year resolutions, and I decided it was time to finally cross it off the list. Before long we had unloaded at Cannock Chase car park, and were ‘flying’ (in my head I was flying, in reality it was a ‘thirty-something who hasn’t been out on her bike for a while and has forgotten how hard/scary it is’ crawl) down steep slopes of narrow track on the purpose-built ‘Follow the Dog’ trail, weaving between trees, jumping over roots, skidding round switch-backs, launching off rocks, skimming over raised platforms (like I say, in my head I was certainly doing all these things). There were also some pretty evil uphill slogs, at which point I remembered something very strange about myself – I like going uphill. It’s where I come into my own, overtaking sweating men and just being all determined and ‘rock-woman’ about it. Don’t ask me where this slightly odd attitude comes from – I’m sure a psychoanalyst would have a field day. But I think I just like the physical and mental challenge – it’s most definitely ‘character-building’, that most detested phrases from school PE lessons.
As often happens when I’m embroiled in an all-encompassing physical activity, I marvelled at how it is impossible to be anywhere else than in the present moment when all your mental energies are focussed on preventing yourself from catapaulting through the air. It’s the sense of ‘here and now’ mindfulness that I strive to find in my yoga, yet so often instead find myself thinking about how my toenails need cutting or how pleasantly muscly the guy in front of me’s shoulders are or what I’m going to have for tea later, etc. It’s so much harder to be in the present moment when your sole attention is not fundamentally required, although all the sweeter when you attain that state amidst distraction. This inevitably comes from focusing on the breath, and I attempted to bring my yoga breath awareness to the bike ride too, encouraging my tense muscles to relax as I careered down steep slopes, teetering on the cusp of being in control. It definitely helped me to become more fluid and in tune with my bike. Other useful parallels between yoga and biking I noted were that the yoga core strength really helps with balance and I also appear to have yoga thighs of steel these days – you see, its sole application isn’t just tying yourself into freaky-looking knots! In fact, I am becoming increasingly interested in the specific benefits of yoga to different adventure sport activities – possibly more on this in later posts…
Anyway, it was a splendid day, and my bike has completely forgiven me for past insults now that we are both still finding mud on ourselves in unusual places – we are partners in grime once more… 🙂
All is forgiven – one happy, muddy bike.