Top 5 life lessons from mountain biking – Part 5

by Steve Brock on November 7, 2012

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.

Try it.


Just for the fun of it.


If you haven’t already done so, check out the rest of this series: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4a and 4b

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Travel and the serious work of play

by Steve Brock on May 20, 2011

In the pursuit of meaningful travel – travel that moves your soul, touches your heart, connects you with others and seeks out life-changing experiences – I sometimes forget something.

I forget the joy of playing.

I forget that sometimes the most meaningful thing we need is simply to have fun. In my busy, responsible, adult life, I forget the value of play. I’m thankful, however, that travel can remind me of its importance.

Travel and play actually share several commonalities:

  • Both take you out of the ordinary into a different reality from your daily work or routine.
  • Both, in the best cases, require or spark creativity and imagination.
  • Both are for a distinct period of time, a self-contained event.
  • Both can be done alone or with others, but when done with someone else, you forge certain bonds through the shared experience.
  • Both are – at least at key moments – just plain fun.

 But play, as with beauty, is best experienced rather than analyzed.

I was reminded of this last weekend on a short trip I took with my family to Port Townsend, Washington.

The day was drizzly (which, in the greater Seattle area, is as surprising as saying that water is wet). We stopped by Chetzemoka Park, a small sanctuary of green overlooking the Straights of Juan de Fuca. My wife and I had just informed our youngest son, Connor, that we wouldn’t be purchasing some item – I don’t even recall what it was – that he wanted. This left him in a bit of a funk, a mood not uncommon to 13-year-olds, other teens and the parents of said teens when having to deal with said moods for extended periods of time.

As the rest of our family explored the park, Connor spotted a tire swing and plopped down on it, glumly sitting there in the gray. I called over to him if he wanted me to spin him. No response.

So I did it anyway.

The initial “Daaaaaad!” of protest quickly disappeared as I pushed on the tire and simultaneously spun the supporting chains. Within a few seconds I heard a single giggle. Within a few more, as speed and centrifugal force gained momentum, a continuous flow of laughter emerged from my son.

And from me.

That small moment on that short trip reminded me of a very serious fact.

I need to play more often.

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Cairo: the value of being there

by Steve Brock on February 12, 2011

A week ago, a friend of mine and I were talking about what it would be like to travel to Cairo, Egypt to see the protests there.

Is that really a form of travel we’d want to have?

We talked about the practicalities: logistics, safety, health, etc. Sure it might be interesting to see, but would it be worth the risks? Especially after the pro-Mubarak forces began clashing with the protesters last week and even foreign journalists became targets of harassment and assault.

And then yesterday occurs.

In ways we still don’t understand, Mubarak is out, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is ruling the country and the people in Tahrir Square are going absolutely nuts. And despite all the chaos, I realize that those who traveled to be there in that square yesterday – some from a few blocks some from thousands of miles away – will experience firsthand something that will truly change their lives.  

Ask anyone who has participated in these history-making events: marching with Dr. King during the civil rights movement of the ‘60’s, standing on the other side after the fall of the Berlin Wall, or, in my case as a kid, watching my friend Billy race down our street on his brand new bike, the fancy one with the banana seat and genuine, grown-up-like hand brakes. In his enthusiasm to try out the new bike, he hadn’t bothered to test the brakes so as he sped toward the end of the street he just squeezed the lever on the right which – bad toss of the coin for him – turned out to be the front brake.

The almost full 360 degree flip he made as a result brought an initial stunned silence from those of us in his pre-pubescent audience. That was quickly followed by a cheer when we realized that a) our friend was not dead, b) his new bike was virtually unscathed, c) the blood on all knees and elbows was kind of cool, like a battle wound or something, and d) we had just witnessed the greatest action stunt any of us had ever seen live in our entire eight or nine years of existence.

Being more than a witness but an active participant in such events changes you. The experience gets deeply imprinted into your memory and psyche not just because of what you saw or even felt, but because you shared the event with others.

We’re created for community and we become most aware of this in times of trial and struggle and in times of joy and celebration, all of which occurred this week in Tahrir Square. We can vicariously appreciate some of that exuberance from a distance, but we’ll never understand it fully without being there.

I found that out once when I happened to be in Florence, Italy on the day that Italy won the World Cup. I knew virtually nothing about soccer or who was playing whom. But I will never forget the infectious, riotous celebration that swept through the crowds and affected even a soccer newbie like me. For that day, I was one of them, welcomed as if a life-long fan, lost in the exultation not of the game, but of the people for whom this day had such great meaning.

You can’t always time your travel to be in such places at such times. But if you are, these moments become the travel stories you tell your grandchildren. These are the tales you will be able to recount forty years later as if you were there because at one time you were: fully there, fully engaged, fully alive and fully a part of history.

Not a bad way to travel.

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The journey ahead

by Steve Brock December 31, 2010

We can learn a great deal about how to approach the coming year from observing the way people in other countries pray.

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