Find the line. Hold the line.
Mountain biking requires the critical skill of scanning the trail ahead to identify the best possible path through oncoming obstacles. The faster one rides, the faster one must scan–and with the flashing lights, shifting shadows, and uneven terrain, identifying a clear line through the rocks and trees and roots can be challenging. I’ve also learned that the further ahead on the trail its possible to look, the more consistent my riding through that space. But the more technically challenging the trail, the harder it is to find–and hold–the line.
Life seems to be much the same way. Its relatively easy to respond with grace and humility to the rare curveball when I’m riding a relatively consistent schedule of a job and sports. But when life gets technically challenging, when sleep is minimal and work and training demands intense amounts of focus, time, and energy, holding that line–even finding it sometimes–gets 1000 times harder. My responses slip into reactions, and, if the analogy to mountain biking holds up, when that happens, I’m likely to crash, and crash hard.
So when the trail gets challenging, how do I stay upright?
Last weekend, I drove up to Pinckney, Michigan to attempt riding two laps of the 17-mile Potawatomi Trail. It was blisteringly hot out, and riding into the woods felt like a rainforest expedition. Complete with mountains. Well, kind of. The first lap was uneventful, though I felt like every climb was a struggle. The uphill roots and rocks occasionally forced me off my bike, and I found myself awkwardly straddling my top tube as I scrambled up the hills on foot. The descents were equally technical, as one missed line could mean a quick dismount and exit into the woods, with the multitude of rocks and drops in quick succession. As I finished the first lap, I made the poor assumption that there was enough water in my bottle to get me to a campground about 1/3 of the way through the trail, where I also assumed (once again, poorly) that there was water. At about 21 miles into the 34-mile ride, I was out of water. There wasn’t a drop left. As disheartening as this was, there was no way back, so I pedaled on. Fatigue and dehydration started taking its toll. Over and over, I forcibly put my attention back on the trail. Find the line. Hold the line. My attention drifted and my vision was blurry, but I kept on pedaling. Find the line. Hold the line. Inevitably, I drifted into the the mental calculations of endurance sports that are just as inevitably wrong. Twelve minus eight was never three, but it has to be somehow close, and it must mean I’m almost done. Find the line. Hold the line.
Its not all that different than preaching the Gospel to myself. Nearly every morning, as I eat breakfast, I write the same prayer in my journal: Grace & humility today. Its far too easy to respond impatiently when my multi-tasking mind is going a million miles a minute and I’m stopped by a co-worker or student. Far too easy to get distracted and task-focused and push aside the people I so badly want to love well. Grace & humility. Grace & humility.
When it comes down to it, in mountain biking or in life, its find the line, hold the line.