Recently, I was struck by the realization that I have been mountain biking for approximately fifteen years. Since I was a teenager when I started, this was followed by the realization - and these are becoming more common - that ready or not, I am almost thirty. I'm not at all depressed by this development, but I am surprised, which I suppose is only natural. But it's still strange to think that it's been fifteen years since I took my first tentative pedal strokes up Schultz Creek Trail on... what? I don't even remember my first mountain bike. All I remember is my absolute terror of crashing, which undoubtedly made me tense and rigid and therefore led to more crashing, and my dad's limitless patience with me as he taught me to overcome my fear, trust myself, and just let go and ride.
I don't really know what the public image of mountain biking is, but I have a feeling it's of a bunch of heavily gear-laden adrenaline junkies shredding noisily down the trail, spooking horses and taking out tranquil groups of birdwatchers. This may be, unfortunately, a partially deserved reputation, but it is certainly not my own, or the only, experience of the activity.
When I ride my bike on a trail, there is nothing but trail, bike, and body - everything else falls away. I love to climb hills, to fall into a rhythm of breathing and pedaling, only to have it broken by an obstacle - a rock or a root - that requires all my strength and concentration to overcome. One can never maintain the same pattern or expectations for too long while mountain biking, for something new always awaits, whether it is a hairpin turn in the trail or a tarantula crossing in the dusk, each thick leg slowly negotiating the thorny path.
Like so many things in life, mountain biking requires a balance of control and release, of hard work and finesse. Just putting your head down and grinding away will only get you so far; you must also relax enough to dance with the bike, to softly embrace the terrain. Too much tension will cause the body, and by extension, the bike, to be rigid and tight, and inevitably lead to stops or crashes, just as too much control exerted over life can result in inflexibility, missed opportunities, disappointment. Especially when an obstacle appears unexpectedly, the ability to at once relax and push forward, to exert focused effort and simultaneously relinquish the attempt at absolute control and let the trail take you where it may - ahh. That is the ultimate satisfaction, the place where bliss dwells. Bliss on a bike, bliss in life. The journey toward that moment, toward a series of those moments - that's a ride worth taking.