My final (well, for now) life lesson from mountain biking is both my favorite and one of the hardest to perfect. All the other life lessons so far – discovering how going faster may be safer, finding your rhythm, focusing your attention and the non-intuitive nature of balance – are all learned behaviors. This final life lesson isn’t about learning something new but about remembering something old.
Or maybe, it’s about forgetting what gets in the way of what used to be second nature. In any case, it’s all about this simple lesson:
Relax and play.
As with turning, this lesson may not seem inherently logical at times. As I’m riding my mountain bike on trails, my initial reaction is to vise-grip the handlebars, clenching them like a lifeline as I fly down a steep slope over angry rocks and roots that I swear reach out for me as I pass. But the tighter I grab the grips or the stiffer I hold my body, the more punishment I take. Holding on tight makes the ride harder, not easier. Too much like work. Not enough like play.
If I relax my grip, loosen my stance and dance with the bike, I fly over the hard stuff, decrease the likelihood of a tumble and I have a much more enjoyable experience. Kids don’t have to be reminded to relax. Where did I forget this?
Mountain biking is really about goofing around in the dirt. Sure, you have a two-wheeled machine beneath you rather than a pail and a shovel in hand. But that same glee we experienced as a kid is ours for the taking. If we remember to forget.
Forget the fear. Forget about what you look like. Forget about what might happen. Relax. Play. Simply enjoy the ride.
I’ll let you make the connections here to travel and life. But ask yourself this: When’s the last time you played? Sheer, goofy, uninhibited play? Dancing like a maniac or running around whooping or “wasting” time doing something that makes you giggle like a five-year-old, something that causes you to forget about all those burdens that weigh you down as an adult?
Maybe today, this very day, you need to carve out just a few moments of time to remember to forget all the adult messages and rules that tell you how ridiculous and maybe even irresponsible it would be to relax and to simply play.
I’m finding that taking time to relax and play, on a mountain bike, on a trip or at those moments of time when I feel I can least afford to do so isn’t childish. In many cases, relaxing and playing turns out to be the most mature – and satisfying – thing I can do.
Just for the fun of it.