The Tunnel

I like to ride my bicycle. That was likely a statement I uttered for the first time at four when I was wont to pedal my red tricycle as fast as I could to the edge of the world. Of course the edge of the world then was to the post box at the end of the driveway but still, those wheels took me to new vistas with discoveries and challenges aplenty along the way.

For many years I was not biking but rather would pedal vicariously when I could get my brother in law, Larry (an expert and daring bicyclist) to tell me of flying over boulders and tackling near perpendicular single tracks.  Next lifetime for me on all of that, however, he did inspire me to try fire trails which are in abundance where I live. I knew from hikes that these fire trails were wide, well maintained and boasted no boulders.  Boring for most, perfect for me.  

So, one morning about 15 years ago after getting my son to school, I GPS’d to a nearby fire trail and dragged my spanking new bike out of the car. Helmet, gloves on, shoes clipped in and off I went sailing down the ridge of the Santa Monica Mountains with the Pacific Ocean in full view. I was in heaven. Wondering why I had stayed away so long from one of life’s great pleasures blinded me to the fact that every stretch I was sailing down was every inch I’d have to climb back up.  At the eventual stopping point I caught my breath and started pedaling…up, ever up.  You will quickly surmise that I’m no expert on wheels.  I panicked when a heavy patch of gravel lay ahead.  Helpful sayings like “You’ll fall! Get your toes out of the clips! Careful! Danger!” were just some of the voices that would go off in my head.  More often than not, down I’d go. Besides hurting, this started to piss me off so I started to experiment with mind games that might distract me from the mental fear trap that would gape wide open at the slightest challenge ahead on the trail.  To my glee I discovered that looking past the gravel patch or deep divot to a smoother patch just a bit further ahead, allowed me to sail past the challenge with no effort at all. OK, I get it…don’t get so focused on the challenge at hand that you loose your way. In life too? Why not. 

I became brazen. When a Colorado pal invited me to go up a single track through some pines I accepted. Things were going so well until I missed a turn and came off the trail. Mid air and still clipped in I heard a voice in my head say “I don’t belong here.” Got lucky. Crash landed to no ill effect except ofcourse to my pride.  Another life lesson…”Don’t be an idiot.”

These days I’ve been riding a trail that was formerly a railroad bed wending through the mountains. Perfect for me…flat, gorgeous vistas, graded inclines. There is however a tunnel. Uh oh. They ignite all those pesky voices. Ofcourse I could solve the pitch blackness of them with a helmet light but…I don’t know…maybe its the Yankee voice in my head that says that would be weedy. 

In an effort to foil the upcoming darkness I developed an utterly unglamorous system that’s equal parts superstition and logic. I shut one eye hoping to acclimatize atleast one eyeball to the void into which I’m about to enter. At the last possible second I lower my sunglasses, open the sealed lid and hope for the best.  All would go well for the first few meters but then, no matter what time of day, there would come that utterly disorienting moment of being plunged into total darkness save the mouth of light toward which I’d now be pedaling furiously.

Until recently panic would arise, my body seize up, I’d white knuckle grip the handle bars. Challenged by real and imagined giant potholes, what sense of center I’d been enjoying in the light of day would give way to the certainty that with nothing to orient myself, I would loose balance and crash…and did so more than once.  That pissed me off again. With nothing but black void to look ahead to the previously discovered remedy would not work here. The only place it seemed I would be able to go was inside….me. So I did. Easiest way in was to breathe, something I realized I’d not been doing in the tunnel.  Breathing, besides being good for you if you want to stay alive leads to the core, to the center. Riding the breath, if that makes sense…the focus went directly to the center and to everything I needed in the moment: balance, security, safety. Within a few meters I was back into the light, event free.

I look forward to the tunnel now…to the moment of continuing forward by going inward. In fact in quarantine mode, as we all are for now, that seems a pretty good practice to enjoy. 

Happy breathing. Happy pedaling and happy discoveries beyond the post box at the end of the drive. 

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