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Mountain biking is a lot like life

Not long ago, my son Greg convinced me to get back to mountain biking, something I was never good at.

I threw up the usual objections — the very same B.S. excuses that people give me all the time when I tell them to exercise: "no time/too old/too many other things I need to do."

But he visited Mystic and we went for a bike ride at Bluff Point, and after a few tumbles and scrapes at first, I started to get the hang of it, and I was just hooked.

There are so many things in this life that you can be really bad at and still have a lot of fun trying. If anyone ever watched me dance, they would quickly understand what I'm talking about. (It ain't pretty, but Man! What a good time.)

Similarly, Greg came to Mystic this weekend, and we went riding together at a place called Tilcon, probably one of the harder mountain bike trails I’d been on. And while Greg pretty much mastered all the cliffs and rocks, I proved once again that you can be horrible at something and still just have a great time. It dawned on me, as I was doing my best not to die on a cliff, that mountain biking is a lot like life. 

Let’s talk about fear. It is dangerous. When I first started biking, going over the rock walls or small bridges would terrify me and I’d squeeze the brakes right at the most dangerous part. Suddenly, I’d find myself suspended precariously on the peak of a rock pile, nowhere to put my feet, moments before the bike, and I, skidded onto one very abrasive pile of New England granite. Greg shouted out encouragement and advice: “Dad, just don’t brake. Keep going and you’ll see.” I took only 2/3 of his advice. That is, I didn’t brake; I did keep going.

As for “you’ll see,” the only way I could do it at first was, right at the scariest part, I just closed my eyes and pedalled — a sort of leap of faith. It worked and I was elated, although admittedly closing my eyes was not that smart. 

I can’t think of a time in my life where fear did me any good. Best just to have faith and keep pedalling.

Being fearless is one thing. Being reckless is another.

Going down a rocky hill is insanely fun on a mountain bike. Gravity’s free ride: the wind in my face and the trees zip inches from my head. Reckless and euphoric in my overconfidence, my center of gravity was too high and too forward, and before I knew it, my front tire dipped below a tree root and I was hurled headlong into that massive old oak.

No one has yet fully discovered why a moving bicycle stays upright. There are theories — the gyroscopic theory, the caster theory — but each theory has been shown to be wrong. Why does a bicycle stay upright? Why does life exists? I don’t have any easy answer so I’m going with the 17th-century philosopher Pascal, who basically said to have faith and keep pedaling.

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