As usual, when life is feeling a bit scratchy around the edges, it is amazing how a bike ride can put things into perspective. I reckon that world peace could be massively advanced by people finding ‘their’ activity and engaging in it. There is an incredible sense of ‘rightness’ when one manoeuvres the bike through a tricky section of rocks. Surfing has the same sort of feeling – you catch the wave, your timing is right, you angle the board right and you are sliding down the slippery water surface which both perfect and pure fun. Writing has the same effect for me too. You work at a piece of writing (most time’s someone else’s document, given that is what I do for a living) and suddenly you can see that the words are in their right places and the meaning of the text has fallen into place; the puzzle is solved.
Apparently the only chemical that gives our brains a reward is dopamine – we are really very simple animals. Get things right, get a dopamine kick, get things wrong, no dopamine. From an evolutionary point of view, you get a dopamine hit when you do something that promotes your likely survival, so that you want to do it again. This rationale falls down entirely when what gives you a hit is flying in a wing suit, or checking your smart phone, particularly if you are checking it in the car.
Back to biking, or writing, sometimes you see how the puzzle can be solved in what appears to be a flash of inspiration. You can bike the same track for years and not be able to cycle a particular rock garden because you just can’t see your way through it. It has been interesting returning to cycling on the Port Hills where I have cycled on and off ever since I started mountain biking. Funnily enough, the same old rocks are there. Some of them are more exposed because the earth around them has been worn down, and a few have been taken out entirely, but largely the shape of the tracks remains the same over time. Of course, this means that the rocks that you can’t ride up, or ride down, remain there niggling at your consciousness and sense of your capabilities.
I was out riding with my friend Bronwyn a couple of months ago on the Greenwoods Track that goes from the top of Mt Pleasant (where the photo was taken) down to the top of Evans Pass above Sumner, just below where the next picture was taken. We came around a section of boardwalk and I knew that the next corner would be one I had never managed to cycle, in nearly 20 years of riding the track. In fact, I had stopped even trying because I just couldn’t see how to do it and the consequences looked painful. We snagged again, but Bronwyn had nearly climbed over the tricky rock. So we stopped, looked at it some more and then tried again. Another cyclist had shown Bronwyn a different approach and she was showing me – instead of cycling at the rock, which has the propensity to catch your pedal and propel you sideways down a very steep bank, you cycle over the top of the rock.
Bingo, dopamine hit and celebratory fist in the air. We did it! I have gone on to repeat the achievement, and the really weird thing is that the rock now looks completely different. The rock has not changed, but my perception of the rock has altered and what looked hard for 20 years now looks quite easy. The Greenwoods rock is a great reminder for me that the direct approach is not always the best, other people’s insights can change your view, and degree of difficulty can all be about the angle from which you are looking.