Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Dreaming of Balance

Honey Cyclocross, Winter Lilac
Last time I was on a roadbike, I crashed into a tree with my knee. It was one of those milky winter afternoons - the trees a stark black, the ground a soiled white, and the sky a bruise lilac. And it was cold, cold, cold - each breath turning into a patch of fog in front of my face. On afternoons like this, I get a rush from the feeling of being out in the middle of nowhere, wandering through the woods on my own. I was riding the Honey cyclocross bike, its toy-like handling accentuating my high. Hopping, successfully, over a cluster of tree roots, I let out a giddy squeal. It resonated through the empty woods like a metallic ring. As if in reply, I heard the shrill sound of a bird somewhere in the distance. Marco! Polo! Ours were the only voices in the woods.

Before turning home, I ventured onto a snow-sprinkled path and began to navigate its gentle winds. And that was when it happened. I hit an icy patch and the bike slid in an unexpected direction as I tried to steer it around the bend. I ended up in the trees, my hands clutching the bike to keep it from hitting the ground and my right knee jammed into some dry mossy bark.

I experienced this event as more of an unplanned stop than a crash. It was non-traumatic, and did not feel noteworthy enough to write about at the time. I only remember it now, because I dreamt about it last night. Not the crash, but the ride leading up to it.

In my dream I was practicing leaning the bike this way and that using my hips, while moving in a zig-zag fashion along the frozen trail. The sensation of balancing as I did this was unusually, remarkably vivid - more vivid even than the beauty of the winter landscape. The dream went on and on as I felt my weight shift with each change of direction.

I woke up disoriented, wondering why I was horizontal and where the bike was. Had I managed to crash again? Then the moment came when I realised it had all been a dream, and a wave of disappointment washed over me. I wanted to be as in touch with my body's sense of balance in real life as I was in the dream.

The bruises lived on my knee for about a week after the tree's embrace, but now all trace of them is gone. It is purely incidental that I haven't ridden the bike since it happened. We've had some heavy snowfall, and then I got sick. I am still weak, but the dream made it feel imperative that I go out and try to recreate the balancing act. Perhaps spring is coming, at last.

23 comments:

  1. God, I hope the bike is OK!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I find that gentle falls or "unplanned stops" are ultimately all part of balance training. You learn to develop a sixth sense before they happen and learn to relax as the fall unfolds. At the same time that I'm feeling wise and skilful, negotiating rutted icy paths I witness school kids on the same path, riding no hands with their fingers and eyes busily engaged on their smartphones. Which makes me think, at what point in our lives do we forget how to balance?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When, upon doing the same thing you've done all your life, you just fail.

      Eh that hooded guy's scythe glints a bit harder.





      Delete
    2. We forget at the point we start worrying and fail to relax; both in a mental and physical sense. We begin over-correcting and stop trusting the bike to serve it's purpose. We begin to make things worse.

      Another manifestation of this is the "speed wobble". At high speeds some people find their road bikes begin swerving from side to side, getting worse and worse with each change of direction until it becomes uncontrollable. The cause? Tensing up on the bike removing it's natural damping. The cure? Deliberately relax your muscles and let the bike do what it needs to.

      Delete
    3. The increased self-consciousness and tensions of adulthood can play a big role, but to some extent these things are also inherent (i.e. hereditary ataxia). I had problems with balance even as a toddler; it was never intuitive for me the way it was for other children. But I've gotten better with age, figuring out ways to overcome or at least compensate.

      Delete
    4. A few things I find that help me with balance off road are these:
      1. Relax. Please.
      2. Trust the bike - those big round gyroscopes called wheels want you to stay up.
      3. Sliding - even the front wheel -is ok - it does not mean you are about to dump it! Look where you want to be and odds are you will go there!
      4. When all else fails, you take control of the crash, not the bike.

      That last one is worth remembering. The bike can push you as much as you push the bike. I recall one fall a year or so ago when the front of my off road bike skidded out hard on wet clay - ironically right after I commented to my friend that the tires I was using were not great for wet clay. I started to go down. I did not fight it. I knew I was about to become one with the dirt. Oh well. As I fell, still clipped in, I realised that my fall was going to plant my left knee into a fallen log. Not liking that feeling, I clipped out in mid air and hurled the bike as hard as I could behind me. It pushed back equally hard, and I changed course mid air and tumbled into a small pile of leaves the far side of the log and came out of it unharmed.

      The bike survived like it always has done, without a mark.

      Delete
  3. A pretty post with its mythic tones & dreamy visuals. Like Dorothy & Alice, you're launched into a fabulous dimension. The freshness comes through. Thank you for sharing.

    The dream of using your hips zig-zag fashion & the sensation of balance reminds me of kicking my Kickbike where hips and balance and poise are so critical to execution and balancing and to the "lightness of being." I can fly! Thanks again! Jim Duncan

    ReplyDelete
  4. It's fun turn with your body on the road as well. Doesn't take much body english to turn a racing-ish bike.

    It's good to experience a crash at low speeds rather than high speeds!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Spring is on it's way despite the coming storm. On my early morning commute a skunk crossed the path in front of me (since they hibernate, this is an indicator of Spring or maybe a stupid sunk). Also, pre-dawn bird songs have been clearly ones of love, so there you go.

    ReplyDelete
  6. You wish for that together feeling yet, despite my best efforts, you refuse to think about it, yet it takes a dream and a crash to want to ride consciously... do I have that right?

    ReplyDelete
  7. No pedals on the bike?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Look closer. They are Crank Brothers Eggbeaters.

      Delete
  8. So not only you dream about bikes but about very specific bikes and paths. This must be pretty high up on the cyclophilia scale: http://bostonbybike.blogspot.com/2012/05/levels-of-cyclophilia.html

    ReplyDelete
  9. Not too soon! Snow is on your way. Heavy snow here in Pittsburgh this morning -- but very wet, and not too hard to navigate in except where it was thick and packed down, in parking lots and the like. I've found that I can manage pretty well using my rear wheel only for braking, leaving the front wheel having good control for steering. And of course I have snow tires.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Yeah, 'cross bikes and tires have gotten me in whole messes of fixes I couldn't fix. Just out lookin' for fun, nothin' wrong with that -- until someone loses an eye. ;-)

    Dreamt last night that I had my late, lamented Cannondale CAAD 8 back. I was so happy until I awoke!

    ReplyDelete
  11. When my children learned to ice skate (at around four years old) they first learned to fall, over and over again. It was a game and called a Superman dive and it brought about the biggest smiles. They dreamed about it, too. Of course this process was teaching them to test the edges, trust their body, and not worry about falling. Years later the smile still remained each time they got on the ice. The movement, the speed, the ability to instinctively react. And the dreams continued. They're the same on their bikes. Testing the edges, smiling, and not so worried about falling. I, on the other hand......

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yup. Actually, cross training is good. I'm no PhD but it seems everything is connected in interesting ways :)

      Delete
  12. This is such a pretty bike. The additional lilac components set off by the black trim to match the seat and tires, and no interfering colors, really set it apart.

    ReplyDelete
  13. When I crash my first thought is always about the bike. I don't really care much about aesthetics but there is still a strong emotional attachment to my bikes.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Tread on those tires looks much more "dry hardpack" than snowy trail. For the latter conditions, what the British call "knobbly" tread would be helpful.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Noob! (I also just read your comment about black ice... ;-D). But the word 'Noob' was loud and clear in my mindset. Don't let it disturb you, I am not blaming you, on the contrary, I think it is wonderful that you also write about these 'happenings' as we all have the same experience (I guess... , but I come from a country where ice is really treacherous and we learn those things when we are small kids...) and reading this gave me an opportunity to call someone else a 'noob' ... . I've been a noob so many times myself...
    Best regards, I just started reading some of your posts, and I thought them nice. I'll read some more. Have a nice winter, a fun 2014! Chris (a Belgian living in the Netherlands)

    ReplyDelete