biking to heal

Recently I’ve had to take a break from running, owing to some nasty foot pain.  After spending a number of mornings working out on the elliptical trainer, I decided that I really needed to get outside again.  So, last weekend found me riding my mountain bike a bit.  The theory was good.  I figured I’d ride the trails over to the gym, and get a swim in (first one in a couple of months).

I’ve ridden on the road some since the accident.  I figured I would confront my fears by riding in traffic.  But riding a mountain bike is different.  It stresses form and technique.  On the trail, you have to relax your body, shift your weight around in order to keep traction (particularly going uphill on mud or rocks).  You also have to focus your vision on the terrain in order to really see the variations below you before you run into something.

I’d been able to ride passably, and had enough strength and form to make it up some hills of about intermediate difficulty.

So I was surprised at some of the difficulties I felt out there on the bike last weekend.  I was so tense, I wasn’t able to flow with the bike and the ground below it.  Part of the problem was simple apprehension about crashing and falling.  And part of the problem was my monocular vision.  I wasn’t able to process the visual input as quickly as I had before.  I suspect that the slight differences in depth were too much for my single working eye to recognize quickly enough to respond.  Employing the slight head shaking to force triangulation didn’t work quickly enough.  I found myself having to stop and walk up hills that I would have made it up before last July.  It was really frustrating to feel like that.  It wasn’t a matter of strength – it was all a matter of technique.  And I felt afraid of crashing and falling.  It felt very humbling.

There was a hill I’d climbed before several times.  It wasn’t terribly technical, but there were wood ‘steps’ driven into the ground, to prevent water runoff from eroding the trail.  They’re not high at all, perhaps about three or four inches.  But making it over them requires a bit more balance and agility than usual.  The hill is short, but gets a little steep in spots.  And it was pretty muddy out there too, so it was a little more difficult than usual.  I probably tried going up this hill about seven or eight times before getting really frustrated. 

So I decided to use the ride more as a primer for technique than a workout.  Re-learning some things is painful.  It takes patience that I don’t always have, and really hits your soul where things hurt the most – right where you’re vulnerable and afraid.

I’m going to try and spend more time on the trails in the coming months.  Working through some of these issues won’t be easy, but many worthwhile things aren’t.

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