OK...I may not have gotten that quite right, so apologies to Hamlet, who I am pretty sure was struggling over the same issue I was last night: The flow. The groove. The flight of the arrow, true and smooth. I am the arrow and singletrack is the arrow's flight path; A path that challenges me to move along its sinuous course with grace and balance.
In many ways, singletrack represents the I Ching of riding a mountain bike. I Ching refers to a Chinese philosophy or cosmology and in this case:
"The cosmology centers on the ideas of the dynamic balance of opposites, the evolution of events as a process, and acceptance of the inevitability of change."
Ah, if learning to suffer and climb is Zen, then singletrack is I Ching. For instance, looking at the three parts of the definition: There is a dynamic balance of opposites going on here. I want to go one way, the trail wants to go the other way. The events evolve into a chain of actions where evolution leads me to a state of profound imbalance, and I accept the inevitability that I am sucking at riding this narrow ribbon of trail with any semblance of grace and balance. I Ching indeed.
And so it was last night as Ed the Tall and I dove onto a nearby rare section of true singletrack - leafy, narrow, edgy, smooth. It required a delicate touch at the controls to move through with minimal fuss and muss. But after the 4.5ish mile climb on the SSs', I was pretty loopy and was all about being fussy and mussy as I bounced down the trail like a pinball machine ball, hitting first the inner trail border...*DING*...then the outer trail border...*DING DING*...then too much brakes and a wobbly foot stuck out in a mad peglegged version of a bike-riding pirate on a wave tossed poop deck....*DING DING DING*. Wow. More poop then deck.
The problem is that I simply don't get a chance to do this enough to be good at it. I get the same thing from riders who visit from parts of the country where they do not have fast, loose fireroads. They cannot see how I go so fast down them, but they can dance along a rock or root strewn trail at jogging speed like a deer. You tend to get good at what you do the most.
There are two holy pilgrimage sites that I have been to many times: Crested Butte, Co. and Moab, Utah. Every time we go to these places the first couple of rides are eye opening. In CB, it is singletrack, often pretty techy from the moto use or tree roots, but always narrow and fast and in Moab the ledgy drops and seemingly impossible traction on the sandstone brings a rapid baptism into chamois pucker time. But by the end of the day it is better, and by the end of the week, you are dancing down and over stuff that earlier tripped you up.
So last night it took some real concentration to get it together and on the return trip, I was a much improved pinball, still a pinball, but I was scoring less points as I rode. So here are some lessons I taught myself as I went along the enlightened path:
- Less is better. Keep movements to the minimal amount required to make the line of choice. It is better to adjust your line by adding more input if required then to over do it and bounce back and forth between too much this way and then too much back the other way and then...etc.
- Relax and trust your bike and the line you chose. A tense, uncommitted rider is an unhappy one.
- Look down the trail. Forget your front wheel is there and ride to the 'next' section of trail, not the one you are on at the moment. Remember, "Yesterday is behind you, tomorrow is only a whispered promise, but today is a gift...that is why the call it the present" Well, I may have gotten that wrong. I figure that yesterday is the corner I totally blew behind me, tomorrow is the next corner I cannot see which represents the next line I can miss, and right now I am between the two.
- More hips, less hands. Keep neutral on the bike and use your hips and saddle connection to move the bike through the trail. It is a subtle dance move. Think Samba, not Disco.
- Less brakes. This is a hard one. Trust yourself, your bike, your tires. However, momentum is your friend but speed kills. Less brakes, not NO brakes!
To flow, perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub.