Sunday, October 22, 2006
Disaster can often be seen from a long way off. Only problem is we don’t always understand that it is disaster from that vantage point. It was a long single track that I knew pretty well considering that I was a newbie. Oh others have made it longer but for me it was long enough. I knew that I was fatigued, not thinking as clearly as I should have been for the line ahead. I first ran with her in a gentler time when the world was softer, kinder somehow. Or perhaps I was just more alert, less fatigued. Oh you knew there would be rocks and other features that prevent the smooth ride the roadie knows but that’s why we do it isn’t it? If life present no challenges, then how do can we know we are alive? It’s the jolts that refresh our perspective, crank up our appreciation of the smooth hard-pack between the rocks. So there I was tired, fatigued but spinning along anyhow. I also knew she was unyielding; that was the charm. Except when I was tired and fatigued, then it wasn’t so charming. The turns keep coming hard and fast, she leans to provide me braking with the gravity of the turn, slows my flight with an unexpected rise and the bank of the turn, my wheels caressing the dirt as I strain to see around the next bend for the adventure yet unknown. Yet I knew what was around the next bend, more or less, but the excitement still built as I bombed down the trail, worn by familiarity not just of my wheels but of so many others that have come before. We hurl our knobbies down the hard-pack looking for somewhere they can dig in and earn their keep. Do we know how we flirt with disaster seeking knobby notches to gain purchase for our potential? And what if we outride the trial, push the banked turns past their vision for our clear carriage, slip beyond the known sliver of single track unrolling before us. Perhaps we careen slightly, falling into the turn a bit harder, grasping the edge, thrilled when we regain the black ribbon that carries us on to the next challenge. So I pushed, the trial, unyielding but knowing that was the rules until just when I knew it was time for something different. Perhaps more speed, a different approach to the turn, jamb the rocks on the other side that looked scary but held the sweet promise of a thread to the other side, safe but exhilarated for the conquest. Perhaps that old track, bubbling up from a memory long forgotten, glimpsed at the edge of my eye, clear as a deer track on a foggy morning; indistinct but surely there. I knew I had two choices. The safe, easy way I had gone at first or the tougher way I had softened to my fancy. But then I knew, or at least I know now that I knew then, that there was in fact a third choice and I had to take it. Reckless and wild I dove for this new choice knowing that it really was the only steady path, the only true path. The obvious choices were worn with boredom, padded with safety, like that old pair of slippers clearly beyond any practical use but too familiar to abandon. No exhilaration compares to finding that steady path except actually embarking on it. We all see it as we’re jamming gears, then braking down the hard-pack. We know it’s there but custom, tradition and desire for the safe and familiar keep us from admitting we know it’s there much less actually considering taking it. At some point you have to take it or live forever with the inner let down of never having tried. Now as I hang facing certain disaster, I can find no fault in anyone not choosing this path. Before I even start this descent into hell, trail rash preparing to dine on my flesh, I don’t know that even I would make this choice again. I mean, given another chance, which of course we never get, I don’t know that I would have made this same choice again. It is with equal clarity that I know that this time, seconds from the dire crunch of handlebars testing the structure of my ribs, I have made the right choice. This time, yes, this time, it was the right choice. Not because I like or need the pain. No, this time it’s the right choice because I will only know that I exist when I emerge on the other side of this disaster. Knowing my pain for sure, but more importantly knowing that this time I took the steady path. That this time I had the strength to face potential disaster. That this time I would make the choice anyway, learn from it what I can but know that I have tested myself.