Cycling Stories

Lessons in Flow

November 13, 2019


Lessons in Flow

Branches, bare after late-October winds, no longer shade the waving grasses tickling their trunk.

Camouflaged by an amber fusion of chestnut, chocolate, and cinnamon, a chipmunk at its base darts across the trail. Overhead, a black-billed magpie extends their squawking send-off.

A few feet away, fir, conifer, and sage flaunt their perpetual greenness, defiant against the low-hanging autumnal sun.

Mother Nature’s symphony, writ small.

As wind shrieks past my ears, though, it might as well be background noise emanating from a static-filled AM-band commercial.

Instead, my eyes are locked onto an ever-changing trail section where my bike skims, skates, skips, and glides atop roots, rocks, and sundry other ensnarements, popping into and out of my vision like quantum foam.

A familiar ebbing, flowing orchestration that’s—sometimes punishingly—taught me many lessons over the years:

  • Look where I’m headed, not where I want to avoid.
  • Keep my hands light, feet heavy.
  • Maintain proper body position up top, and tire pressure down below.

Perhaps the prizewinner: Maintain laser-like focus, while surrendering to the bike’s dance. Savor the balance between leading and following.

I was lucky to discover road cycling in my early twenties, although I didn’t own a trail-worthy mountain bike—a decade-old Yeti 575—until my late thirties.

I already recognized that cycling on the pavement requires powerful, concentric pedal strokes. Trail riding, on the other, I quickly learned demands finesse; understanding when to pedal or coast, where to shift my weight, how to feather the brakes.

Compared to the monotony of the road, mountain biking reminds me—second by second—that I have nothing but the tiniest of control over the situation. And each split-second decision can either increase my stoke or send me to the ER.

Choosing a fear-based perspective, I could allow this understanding to cause constriction—neck, arms, and shoulders tighten, fingers death-grip the handlebars, knees squeeze together against the top tube—in an attempt to impose control over my bike.

Instead, I give my bike freedom. I act as its central stability point but allow it to go where it needs depending on the trail’s demands. Guiding, but not overreacting to obstacles, indulging in “what-ifs,” or worrying about the thousands of other things that could potentially go wrong.

Creating flow where none exists.

Cycling or otherwise, the first step toward achieving flow is letting go.

Mindfully recognizing aspects of life worth indulging, and those where you can coast, balance your weight, and allow momentum to carry you over the rough stuff.

Releasing our ever-present need for control can also lead to perspective shifts, allowing us to view life’s bumpy patches as opportunities for self-progress, instead of excuses for self-loathing.

Learning to find joy in the ups-and-downs, instead of focusing on the temporary stumbling blocks along the way.

After all, it’s only a matter of time until each of us loses traction again. But, it’s up to us whether we hop off the saddle and regroup, or continue spinning our wheels.

How do you find flow, on or off the bike? Start a conversation by leaving your comment below!

Keep rolling: To Be Unsure You’ll Succeed

Derek has more than two decades of experience as a cyclist, and is the founder of TreadBikely. He currently travels full-time with his family via RV, enjoying the country's best biking destinations. A secular Buddhist, Derek frequently explores the intersection of cycling, mindfulness, and compassion in his writing. #rolloutblissout
  1. smilecalm

    wonderful account of a beautiful cycle :-)

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