Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Tracing the Tangles

Mysterious Ways
In theory, cycling on Cape Ann - with its miles of rocky beaches and its quaint villages - should be idyllic. In practice, it is all main roads, devoid of shade and dense with traffic, along a largely hypothetical coastline. The water views are obscured by developments and the sea is strangely scentless much of the time. Add to that the crater-sized potholes, the unyielding drivers, and the mosquitos immune to insect repellant - and frankly I don't find it so idyllic at all.

But stubbornly I persist: the same old 45 rolling miles, from Rockport to Ipswich and back. There is exactly one stretch of backroad along my route, and I anticipate it as one might anticipate a tart fruity filling in an otherwise bland pie.

There is only one stretch of backroad, but this stretch has a little of everything: climbing, quiet, overhanging trees, wooden bridges over saltwater marshes. And the part I look forward to most are the twists. The narrow road loops abruptly to the left, then to the right, then to the left again, then - who knows. It twists haphazardly - not so much a series of hairpins, as a mess of tangles.

As a young girl I once found a stray length of golden chain in my grandmother's garden. It was thin and delicate, the kind of chain meant to be worn with a pendant. But now it was dirty and torn and missing a clasp - not really of use to anyone. I remember standing there and spilling it back and forth from one hand to the other, fascinated by the curves and tangles it made each time it settled on my palm. I would trace the tangles with my eyes and it was an act of meditation.

This memory comes out of nowhere as I now trace the twists of the road on my bike. Or rather, it is the bike that traces them. I merely hang on and take it all in, savoring the experience. The bike leans dramatically left, then right, then left, then ...who knows. And I relax and lose myself in the meditative feel of it, my hands keeping clear of the brakes. I can't tell you how I finally learned to corner. It just happened one day. It emerged from a tangle of experiences, memories, emotions.

25 comments:

  1. Which bike were you on when these thoughts arose?

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    1. Something about this bike fires your imagination.
      If I understand correctly, it's kind of the opposite of your Seven
      roadbike in that regard. You've described the Seven as being nearly transparent; ideal. The Honey seems to make you think about your relationship with both the bike and the world you're traversing with it.

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  2. I can tell you - you practiced.

    Despite your best efforts it happened anyway.

    Golden Thread, no noise. Ohm...

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  3. That's a nice memory. I barely recall learning to ride a bike, let alone to corner: or rather, what I recall are all the falls and scrapes, the riding slowly between two parked cars after my dad took off the training wheels; I have a vague recollection of success, and then riding became so natural that I didn't think about it enough to have clear memories.

    And I learned this June about cycling on Cape Ann. My wife and I enjoyed doing a circuit from our hotel at Bass Rocks around the cape, but it was in June, just after school got out, so traffic wasn't too bad. But the ride from Gloucester to Ipswich (or, more accurately, to the Crane Reservation) had too much traffic for the scenery, if you know what I mean. The exception was when we left 133 to head north on Concord Street, which we followed to Lufkin Street before rejoining 133 east of Essex center. Would that be the stretch you were thinking of? The wood bridge rings a bell.

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  4. ha! i question your assumption of 'in theory' :)

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    1. Yeah. I really like the coast so my dream cycling route is coastal. But in the East Coast US at least, coastal roads just don't seem to be that great.

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  5. I have a road that reflects the best of your Cape Anne ride - it's Dog Bar Road between Grass Valley and Placer Hills Road which leads to Auburn or Colfax (in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains). It's a truly magical place, especially early in the morning. Alas, getting there is fraught with traffic and noise and pollution and all the other things our world tosses at us . . . as we ride silently, cleanly and smoothly and they burn the world's body in their vicious, polluting automobiles . . .

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  6. Damn! You're good.

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  7. Cornering is balance. The actions required to balance while riding in a straight line are pretty much the same as those required to lean into a corner. In either case the main job is keeping the bike up on wheels and not letting it fall to the ground. Every time you practice riding a straight line you are also practicing cornering. Whether you know it or not.

    For all the talk there has been on this blog about trail/caster/steering stability there are plenty of times those aspects of riding a bike just don't apply. When the front wheel is in the air, however briefly, the bike has no trail. When the front wheel is unweighted, as in going uphill, trail matters less. Just riding along there are endless repeated moments of pure balance, of pure body English. The mechanical side of the balance equation isn't always doing much. And then it is all up to the rider to keep the rubber side down. Repeat until it feels automatic.

    The hard part is not leaning into a corner. The hard part is getting out there and riding the bike at all. Then it's all practice and patience and the results come.

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    1. I have certainly had lots of practice, so I am just an exceptionally slow learner in this respect. When I first started riding as an adult it took me a good few months of daily riding just to learn how to steer without using the handlebars like a steering wheel. 4 years later and I am still only starting to internalise what to most seems to come naturally from the get-go. I agree with the "repeat until it feels automatic" recipe, but for some it will take much longer than others, which I guess is where the patience part comes in!

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    2. interesting... i am happy and said for you at the same time. my body is a cage by arcade fire comes to mind

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  8. My apologies for an off-topic comment. I was just now on the Rivendell Owners Bunch site, and the person who bought your beautiful green mixte said it had been stolen from the garage. I was heartbroken. Bike thieves are not nice people.

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    1. Yes I saw that. Sad and unfortunate; seems to be lots of bike theft reported these days.

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    2. Don't know if you know that she's been recovered (on 15 August), Velouria, although unfortunately it cost the owner $500. Still, if the insurance claim had gone through she would have been the property of the insurance company and they might have lost her forever.

      Similar story, although it cost nothing: I had a car stolen once, a VW Polo. Curiously enough, it was precisely the same colour as "Constance", a kind of jade green metallic. I'd left the keys in it when it was parked in the driveway of the house; I'd been going to take the dogs out in it but then it started snowing so I didn't bother and just went to my bed, forgetting the keys were still in the ignition.

      Next morning it wasn't there. I reported it stolen to the police, then borrowed my sister's car and drove all around the neighbourhood trying to see if it had been abandoned anywhere, without success. It was stolen on a Friday night, so I couldn't report it to the insurance company until the Monday morning. I went to the insurance office; they told me they might not have paid out because I'd left the keys in the ignition, but they were willing to do so this time.

      I then went to the VW dealer to see about hiring another Polo until the insurance was sorted out, which happened to involve walking past Tesco supermarket. There was a jade green metallic VW Polo parked just outside Tesco's front entrance and I thought, sadly, that's just like mine – same colour; it even had the same registration number. Then I thought, shit, it IS mine! It had a parking ticket dated the morning after it was stolen, and was undamaged. I had a spare key, so after calling the police to tell them I'd found my own car, it was just a case of cancelling the insurance claim, letting the police dust it for fingerprints then driving it home.

      Maybe I was born lucky, otherwise given some of the mishaps I've had on bicycles since my "born again" moment (six months after yours) I'd be dead, but at least your old "Constance" is back home.

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  9. This year I went to Nantucket last week July - through first week August. My first time there high season.

    Compared with previous visits in Mid-September I was taken aback by the heat, crowds, and how quickly the summer sun burns unprotected skin.

    The winds are stronger and the the social scene is all but dead, but the ocean side in New England autumn is so much more wonderful than summer.

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    1. Nantucket is notorious for road traffic unfortunately; Cape Cod is a bit better. Then there's the car-free (well mostly) Block Island - worth a try if you haven't been.

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  10. Surprising no-one has mentioned "counter-steering" yet. It is discussed more amoungst motorcyclists because their cycles are heavier. But counter-steering is what we are doing unconsciously on our bicycles as well.
    What is it, for those who haven't heard of counter-steering? To carve a curve, say, to the right, we must obviously lean right. The quickest and surest way to initiate that lean RIGHT is for the contact patch at ground level to be momentarily displaced to the LEFT. So to lean right we briefly put pressure on the bars TOWARD THE LEFT. It is much more obvious on a single-track vehicle as heavy as a motorcycle. But we are doing it on our bicycles as well. This is most apparent at slow speeds, say climbing a steep hill at walking pace. We weave back and forth steering the contact patch back under our centre of gravity, to maintain balance.

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  11. Seems when some folks encounter something new, over thinking debilitates. Eventually experience, repetition, practice make it intuitive or done w/o thought....the beauty of living.

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    1. Or any thinking. Sometimes you have to let the body do it's thing and not interfere.

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  12. You learnt to corner by forgetting that you couldn't corner. Simples!

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  13. I am sorry that the three subsequent commenters chose to discount my explanation of counter-steering as over thinking. It has been standard teaching in motorcycling courses for 20 or 25 years. Knowing how a bicycle handles does not prevent you from doing it, it enhances your ability to do it.

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    1. As a former motorcyclist, you are indeed correct about the effects of counter-steering and how important it is to riding. It is *not* over thinking, but a necessary tool to survive on a motorcycle. and it isn't something you really think about if you ride enough. Back when I was riding a motorcycle 20,000+ miles per year, it was automatic and still is when I'm riding my bicycles.

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  14. With many things, there comes a point where it all just falls into place and you no longer consciously think about it. I'm that way when I play my guitar or mandolin - I just pick it up and play. There are times, though, when I have to give thought to what I'm doing and find the exercise refreshing and energizing in a strange way.

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  15. Several times after reading your posts I've thought you need to look into The Inner Game. Away back around the time you were born, a tennis professional called Timothy Gallwey developed learning techniques which he called The Inner Game – about how the mind interferes with the body – how to distract conscious thought so that the body is allowed to function naturally and efficiently, a state he referred to as "non-judgmental awareness." With your extensive professional/personal experience of psychology, you'd be able to understand and interpret it better than I ever could, although I've spent most of my life trying. Gallwey's first book, "The Inner Game of Tennis" is a classic, but there have also been Inner Game books written about golf, skiing and music, although not (yet!) about cycling. Seriously, there's no-one else who would be as well qualified – in spite, or perhaps because, of the difficulties you've suffered – ataxia, proprioception – to write that book as you. Maybe not quite yet, as far as the cycling goes, but at the rate you're going it won't be long; experience-wise you're away ahead of me. You're such a lovely writer, you would do an awesome job. At the very least, if nothing else, please try to get hold of a copy of The Inner Game of Tennis if you haven't already come across it; even if you've never swung a tennis racket in your life (I haven't for years, and that wasn't why I bought the book), it applies to everything, and I'm sure you'd find it fascinating (so would GR Jim and a lot of other folk who comment on this blog).

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