I am exceedingly fortunate to have biking buddies and ski partners that are exemplars of form and function. It is behind their wheel or in their tracks that I continue to learn and evolve as a biker and a skier. Myriad lessons abound from these role models, none more important than the necessity of adapting to the terrain as it flows underneath. Looking like they are hardly trying, they swallow hits and bumps with aplomb and at mach pace.
Surrendering one’s self to gravity is a frightening undertaking with potentially life-altering consequences. In response to this self-inflicted danger, it is the instinct of one that possesses a fear gene to tense up, to fight against the trail. With locked out arms on the handlebars or stiff legs trying to link turns, the countervailing energy works at cross purposes to grace and speed. Inflexible and gripped, it is easy to be tossed off line, to take huge shots to the spine.
A bike’s suspension is designed to absorb shocks; a skier’s legs serve the same function. Relaxing, looking ahead, and being loose allows the mechanics or biomechanics to perform as intended. The energy put into the endeavor is coincident with the kinetics engendered by descent, rather than being wasted as muscles strain and twist in terror. When cruising optimally, there is still serious effort, but it is productive and not limiting.
These days, for many of us, life can feel like a continual plummet, a journey over gnarly topography. But since we are predisposed to follow what we believe to be our preordained path, we do anything but adapt to the surprise gullies, to the unexpected hills, to the inevitable obstacles. Instead, we stubbornly plod forward, expending untold kilojoules of unnecessary energy combating that which we cannot overcome, it being largely or completely out of our control.
Life is a dynamic undertaking; there is a reason it is cliché to say that the only constant is change. Rationally, this would call for a wholly flexible approach, an antithesis to the static attack that we often attempt. Eyes open, smile at the ready, an athletic stance, these can all carry over from our outdoor pursuits to the no-less-terrifying travails of daily living. But, more so than our bodies, our minds must be rubberized, primed for maximum elasticity.
When in a good space, on a great trajectory, this is precisely the time that we must prepare ourselves for that horrible event that is undoubtedly on the horizon. But rather than subverting current wonders as we dread what is to come, we must embrace the present joy as it is the repository of strength that will carry us through when times take a turn for the worse. The upbeat moments are the opportunity to recharge, to bolster our systems, to take in the positive energy; we need to open our brains to optimally absorb the good vibes.
Conversely, as the bottom drops out, we should not fold, but rather steel ourselves against the angst, fueled by the knowledge that nothing lasts forever and that we have done the work to survive the struggles. We must rise to the challenge, rolling with the ebb tide, not swimming against it, but understanding that life has put us out to sea for a reason. Perhaps we are meant to journey to a different shore or to be tossed in the waves and washed aground again, not much worse for wear.
Infinite adaptability is the goal. When I picture how I want to move through this life, I think of my sender friends casually using all of their bike’s travel or flying through a mogul field with a perfectly still upper body. Flow is fast.