For some of us, cycling is a chance to distance ourselves from our daily lives. Jon and I are exceptionally lucky to cycle in one of the most beautiful places in America which we’ve taken pride in sharing.
As cyclists we connect to the beauty of our surroundings, attend to the obstacles in our path, absorb the bumps in the road, feel the burn of each pedal stroke pushing us forward, and hear our breath get harder and deeper. We become more present and I think that’s one of the reasons we chose to clip in for the day to tune out the rest of the world. (Words of advice: don’t check your email, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter on a ride. You don’t need to hear from your boss or see what your college roommate is having for brunch. It CAN wait.)
Not every moment of cycling is a blissful. Nothing makes my life more miserable than CLIMBING. All I think about is how pained, exhausted and out of breath I feel. My thoughts turn to doubts of whether I can make it up the hill, or worse, make it home before dark. I am always focused on getting to the top, the finish, the future. (Or I’m saying to myself “What the heck was I thinking when I agreed to do this in the first place!”) If this was my metaphor for life, it would be a recipe for misery: completely immersed in my unpleasant thoughts and only living in the past – for my choices and the future – for my expectations. It’s only when I’m aided by my hybrid of a motivational speaker, athletic coach and cheerleading squad inside my head championing me to get up the hill that I can do it. I need to be told constantly that the effort alone makes me a “Rockstar”, even as the elderly man or tourist on a creaky comfort bike passes me like I’m standing still.
I do it all for the downhill.
They (namely my endlessly fascinated husband who records these endeavors – see videos – and his friend – see Three Amigos) call me the “Pink Bomber”: after my hot pink helmet and propensity to leave the men behind, pass Porsches (true story) and the genuine euphoria I get from attacking the downhill that eludes most cyclists. My husband calls it “intestinal fortitude” but I know it be the one time in my life that I feel entirely immersed in “The Moment.”
The most natural reaction to downhill cycling is fear. The instinct that tells us “Don’t crash!” is what has kept our ancestors alive throughout evolution. As is often the case in life, people want to grab the brakes to stop the bike from going down to ease their fears, but using your bike handling skills to attend to your brakes is not only less enjoyable, but is a less effective, more dangerous way to get down the hill. When all your attention is paid to your fears and all your your efforts devoted to braking, where is your concentration for the car coming in the opposite direction that’s swerving into your lane? (Or as I like to call them: Sunday Drivers.) Your bike was designed to handle the downhill and coast through corners, not deal with your emotional baggage.
The key to downhill cycling is looking forward. From moment to moment I must evaluate what my needs are and what the appropriate response is: when to angle my knee, aim for the apex of a corner, get down into my drops, tip, and always look towards where I’m going. And yes, my brakes are there to serve me, like thoughts: not to hold me back but move me forward to the perfect speed for attacking the corner ahead. I touch them gently, like holding the hand of a good friend, I don’t arm wrestle them! Making an enemy of your brakes is your worst mistake on a downhill. They press against your rims, heating up your tires which explode in anger! That’s how I envision it – your fears make your otherwise happy bike have a nervous breakdown. Just like ruminating will make a mess of your mind.
Conquering the downhill necessitates freeing up your mind to make one judgement call after another. Yes, there will be scary moments. The “Oh crap, I almost became roadkill.” But there’s no time to think about that last hairy corner when the next corner is rapidly approaching because you need to attend to “What’s next?” And you can NEVER turn and look back to admire the horror of what might have been. You would most certainly crash. Instead, with every moment you glide with a sense of confidence, forget that your are not crashing, let go of everything except the sensations you need to let your bike do what it was designed to. For every descent you feared, you experience a sense of mastery for handling that complex and fearsome task, the willingness to embrace what you can versus what you cannot do.
At the end of a descent my mind feels cleansed and all that’s left is the adrenaline and a sense of pride. If only we could go through life attending to each situation as it arises, tackling each problem with the information in front of us and honoring our solution before moving directly on to the next. And if at the end of each day, before we went to sleep, could feel a deep sense of satisfaction for having survived our day’s struggles and for accomplishing so much. To feel that same sense of joy for having lived our lives.
In the meantime, attack the downhill with the wisdom we wish we could apply to every part of our lives, as we strive to get there, one corner at a time.
Author and cyclist, Miko Laube, was a psychology major at Brown University that decided not to become a shrink. She is a published fashion, beauty and men’s magazine photographer (check out her work here) and editor of the photo-fashion-art publication Gleam Magazine which features cycling photography in its November 2014 issue. She has, and always will, hate the uphill. Follow Miko on Instagram @MikoPhotoFashion.