LADIES! Re-establish your connection to the earth
By Pilar Skabzoff
Ever since childhood, I've understood the essence of life's "physical education": Burn and Ye Shall Learn. Unfortunately, instead of getting easier, it has gotten much tougher to fall off a bicycle with the onset of middle age. Somehow, just knowing that my bones are brittler does a number on my brain. As soon as I lose control on the bike, I stiffen up and land like a taxidermied squirrel in full "flying W" formation, instead of the sack of potatoes I was as a kid.
To remedy this, I thought of practicing falls off a moving bike, then changed my mind. It would clutter up my little "scrapebook" of hard-won real-life lessons etched in pink all over my knees, elbows, and hips. No, it would have to be something a little less... uh...graphic. A little more symbolic, perhaps, something with a hint of ritual. A bikie's version of saying prayers, or meditating.
After rifling through a stack of major religions, I decided on a blend of North American Native Pantheism and good old Buddhism, the spiritual staple of the Orient.
As I understand it, the original inhabitants of our country imbued trees, rocks, animals and certain locations with varying degrees of power, and much energy was spent in keeping this power in balance (in sharp contrast to our current beliefs). And my simple grasp of Bhudism has this wisdom at its core: Be Here Now, Or You're Dead Meat Manana.
Now, how to put this precious theory into practice? Simple. Here's the Zen part: never stop paying attention to the terrain as you're riding along, and always ride within your own limits. This means don't bother trying to keep up with a much better rider, at least not downhill. Allow yourself to learn the subtleties of descending at your own pace, what feels safe to you. This can mean getting off and walking when it's too steep or loose, until you're confident of your ability to get your weight back over the rear wheel to maintain traction. Or it can mean knowing when to "bail" at a low speed to avoid "eating it" a few seconds (and several miles per hour) later. When the pitch gets too steep on a vertical descent, turn right or left and put your foot down, then decide what to do. ..
When descending, keep an eye out for "wise guy rocks" (ones bigger than the rest), then avoid them--to do this you must bounce your visual field from close-up to far-ahead, and back, in order to anticipate the myriad variables that make fat tire riding so scary at first, but ultimately so relaxing. In time, you'll find that these things come more naturally, and absorb you so completely that you will forget about your boyfriend, your boss, or the new dent in your fender..
Also, when negotiating a root or rock or steep dropoff to one side, look ahead, where you want to go--not down, where you're afraid you'll end up. There really is something to the notion of cybernetics, the systems theory of steering and control. This one is easy to practice-just lay a 6" wide, four to six-foot plank on the ground, and ride along it (make it an inch and no thicker) until you're comfortable enough to pedal the entire length without front-wheel oversteer (resembles a zig-zag stitch). Pay no attention to the rear wheel gnawing at the edge of the board; no harm done if it drops an inch onto the pavement. Or, ride along a painted highway line (NOT the double yellow, the single WHITE one on the right...) and notice how looking ahead keeps you straighter than staring at what's disappearing under your front wheel.
When you're out riding, and you've fallen, even if it's just a contusion of the pride, take a cool minute to check yourself out (and the bike !) before resuming. In other words, get "centered", or risk becoming tomorrow's dog meat. In my own experience, one crash can snowball into many more if I spend the rest of the ride chewing myself out instead of paying attention to the fire road. So I get back on, see how I'm doing, and g-r-a-d-u-a-l-l-y pick up the pace. This especially pays off in race situations where the panic following a mishap can catalyze a minor disaster, or, as we in the media refer to it, a "photo opportunity".