Monday, February 29, 2016

Getting Lost in Yourself

It had once been the case that on long, strenuous rides - those rides when my body would all but give up on the final stretch home - I would comfort myself with the Nearly There game. "Only X miles to go" was a thought that would bring some relief to aching muscles and depleted stamina. And, with that aim, I counted down. Now the familiar mountain view. Now the river crossing. The railroad tracks. The village shop. The neighbouring fields...

Passing familiar landmarks ever closer to home, I could almost taste the finish, the final unclipping, the sensation of stepping indoors, the cold (or hot) drink whilst sprawled on the sofa, the peeling back of salt-encrusted layers, the strange delicious mixture of relief and euphoria that is the post-ride resting state.

And then one day it ended.

For as I called out the places we passed and uttered assurances as to their homeward proximity, a friend laughed and said to me: "You are making it harder on yourself."

"When the body starts to expect what it senses is near," he said, "the yearnings only grow more unbearable."

I thought about it for a moment and put it less poetically: So you think it's like when you kinda sorta have to pee, but can totally hold it in for a while, until suddenly you are in the house, and you know the toilet is nearby, and then all at once it becomes completely unbearable and maybe you even pee in your pants a little before you reach the toilet?

"Um. Yes." (Steers bike away from me a little.)

"What I mean to say is... Don't look for the finish line. Instead settle in within yourself."

Settle in...

"Get lost in yourself."

Oh. That.

I can do that. If anything, getting lost in myself, trapped in my thoughts and imaginings, has always been all too easy. Had I strived for years to find my way out, now only to be told to settle back in?

Some things hit you straight away with their profundity. Others you chuckle at. At first. But then somehow, over time, they not so much sink in as trickle in - slowly, but surely, changing you, causing a shift in thought or sensation or point of view.

And on subsequent rides of that sort, in that difficult, painful home stretch, I became aware that I was no longer counting, anticipating. I was settling in, getting lost.

The final miles home - once represented in my mind as a straight-shooting arrow - became a labyrinth. And yet wandering within it, neither seeking nor anticipating an endpoint, I felt better. Calmer. My aches and exhaustion grew more muted, distant, unimportant. And reaching home became a surprise, like being jolted out of a trance.

These things, we might say, are just metaphors. Coping strategies in moments of difficulty.

Like the "pain cave." Or "Shut up, legs." Or whatever else might be coined into a memorable phrase or motto.

And why not? It's about whatever resonates. Whatever helps us make sense of the tangled sensations we experience in these challenging moments of cycling.

And so I settle in. And I get lost. And as those final painful miles expand and contract in their own devious ways, it troubles me not at all.



23 comments:

  1. I guess with riding one's bike for pleasure, if you're not learning something each time you're doing it wrong, right?

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  2. same here, but getting lost in oneself to the gentle rhythm of strokes on pedals and the distraction of reality floating by in its variety is, I find, preferable to introspection, or walking and becoming depressed (or wetting myself)

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  3. Sounds like the Irish fatalism is rubbing off on you ;)

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  4. Oddly, on long recreational rides I find it easier to get lost within myself when I'm with another.

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    1. This. I always find those long, or unusually hard, solo rides much tougher in the mental department. I actally find the ticking off of distances or landmarks a very useful tool to "get it done". I don't find it decreases the enjoyment; if anything it makes me take more notice of the final miles.

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    2. this is idiosyncratic: but I find not having a clear goal (eg trying to do a century) but instead some vague destination(preferably not too far) and something like an old steel framed bike with hub gears (it makes for meandering and disincentives trying too hard) helps a lot

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  5. Definitely, like all your writing, a "value-added" post. Thought provoking! Thank you. Jim Duncan

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  6. There's something to this, but I'm not sure getting lost in *myself* works for me. Part of the joy of the bike for me is how it pulls me out of the thoughts that are constantly chasing after each other inside my thick skull. For the the final miles invite something more like getting lost in what is: getting absorbed by the greens and browns and blues that surround me, by the scents that float by and the pressure of the wind on my skin. Not sure that makes any sense, but it works for me.

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    1. Yes! There are times I'm head down and beating myself up for this or that but the best rides are when I accept the invitation to get outside myself and experience the mass, and movement, and light, and space around me as I cycle. Those are good moments which connect.

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    2. Kendra - it makes perfect sense!! 'Present Moment, Wonderful Moment' by Thich Nhat Hanh

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    3. Remember though that all that too is "within yourself" - i.e. what you are really experiencing is your brain's perception of the external world...

      (I know, I know)

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  7. Yes! I realised this when I cycled 100 miles to a Buddhist festival. Watching the miles-to-go slowly tick down on my GPS, then arriving to realise the contradiction with a philosophy that 'the only time is now'.

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  8. Cycling across the US…these were battles every day. Oh, and gifts. It's what we do as humans.

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  9. A little confused as to why you ride to the point of all this pain anyway? If I get that bad that it's painful I stop for a bit until I've completely recovered and then go on again, no pain. Bit confused!

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    1. Not so much pain as exhaustion. Which is sometimes painful! Culprits are either too fast (i.e. club ride) or too much distance, or both. Not necessarily a bad thing.

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    2. Does this mean you do club rides now?

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    3. I have been doing them on and off since 2011.

      More off than on though in fairness; it never seems to stick as a habit. But on a less organised basis I also routinely cycle with people with whom I exceed my comfort zone, pace-wise.

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  10. Though I ride everyday it's never long rides like you describe in this post so it's difficult to relate. Most miles are in the city, commuting, dancing with traffic and people which keeps my mind alert and time goes by quickly. But I do spend long hours painting and drawing and find that those moments when I loose consciousness, become unconscious and unaware of myself or time or what I'm doing, are the best. It makes hard work much easier. The self conscious is put aside….it's simply being in the moment. Maybe this is an entirely different thing than your talking about or maybe all these things are related and explainable. I've no PhD but find it all interesting and all my rock climbing friends (many who do have PhDs) go on endlessly about the reasons they do it and it all seems connected. Be well.

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    1. Although I like other forms of physical activity, including walking and scrambling up mountains (in a walkable, not rock-climbing manner), occasionally even running and weight lifting, nothing really gets me "lost" the way cycling does. I have also noticed that I never, ever get bored while cycling, whereas nearly everything else will bore me eventually. Why my mind/body took so well cycling I do not know, but I am certainly not complaining.

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    2. Clearly, this blog would not exist had you not gotten lost in this passion of yours. It's not a physical activity thing, it's simply an activity thing and the ways in which it allows us to fee alive.

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  11. I certainly find cycling to be a mentally liberating experience - I imagine most people who cycle frequently enjoy this aspect in particular. Most of my 'free time' riding is through bushland, following river tracks - perfect place to 'lose' yourself in the sounds, scents and sights of our beautiful Australian forests with no motorists to disturb the peace.
    However, I do not ride until the point of exhaustion, I personally see no benefit in that, not physically or mentally. There are many lovely places to stop and rest along the way should I feel the need to do so.

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