One alive moment

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#reverb10
reflect on this year and manifest what’s next

Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors).

I’ve been thinking about this one, off and on all day. What does it mean to feel alive, anyway? And if there was a moment during which I felt most alive, does that mean I also had a corresponding moment when I felt least alive, or most dead? Because let me tell you, the past year has not necessarily been full of many alive moments.

There was a pretty good day this summer, though, that I’ll tell you about. I met some great girls through my Saturday morning yoga class (the one that I quit going to this summer after my teacher moved away), and they invited me to join their mountain biking group. (And also their book club: a bunch of fun and witty women, many who are librarians, and at least one who is both a librarian and a roller derby girl. Unfortunately, I rarely get to join them for book club because they meet on the same night as our VegNet potlucks.)

I thought I would try mountain biking because it was something I’d never done before and I live in an area where it’s very popular and we’re surrounded by great trails. Plus I was interested in finding another way to get regular exercise and this was something I could do with other people that wouldn’t cost a lot of money. (I should mention here that, like with many sports and hobbies, some people spend thousands of dollars on mountain biking equipment, but it’s not necessary for casual participation.) So I decided to assess the existing bike situation. My options: An old dark blue mountain bike with crooked handlebars that my Dad picked up for me a year ago at a garage sale, so I’d have enough bikes for all three step-kids and myself to ride when they were here. Or, my 10-year-old light blue “girl” mountain bike from Costco. Using a gift certificate and some grocery money, I bought a good quality helmet from a local sports shop, and then went on a couple of trips with the girls, trying out both bikes. I quickly realized that the light blue bike was the better (if still ancient) bike, so I used that for the rest of the summer.

So I learned about avoiding pine cones, when to shift gears, bike-body separation, how to brake without going head over heels, yielding to riders coming uphill, and just general good mountain biking basics from some very experienced women. I also learned that I could crash, and even though a bit bruised and battered, I could get up and keep going. After that first minor slow-mo wipe-out, I was much less nervous about it.

Somewhere in mid summer, we met at Shevlin Park for a longish ride followed by the annual picnic. At this point, I’d been out every week or two for a handful of rides, and was feeling confident enough to go with the intermediate group, rather than the beginners. Just a few minutes outside of town, 652 acre Shevlin Park is mostly undeveloped and a beautiful oasis. The lower level follows Tumalo Creek, with lush green foliage near the banks, in stark contrast to the jagged black lava flows. Picnic areas are interspersed along the river, in what seem like natural meadows, although they very well may have been cleared by man originally. Even though the park sees heavy usage in the summer, you can quickly disappear on one of the many hiking or biking trails and have nice long breaks between people. So there is both a busy hum of families and picnicking below, and the serenity of the trails above.

Deep green old-growth ponderosa pine and douglas fir, as well as rabbitbrush and sagebrush in shades of gold and tan, dominate the landscape of the dusty upper trails, full of weathered grey rocks and boulders. I discovered years ago that starkly beautiful charred snags in a clearing near one of the trails (an area recovering from wildfire) were a great place to see woodpeckers. As it turns out, though, birding and biking don’t go well together. My natural inclination was to look for and point out birds that I saw, as I would when hiking. But hiking is slow and contemplative. Biking is not. If your attention waivers for a moment, if your eyes turn off the trail, then your bike may quickly head that direction as well. So I learned to appreciate the trails in another way. To feel the warm air rushing past, smelling of pine, sage, and dirt. To hear the crunch of pine needles and cones, the rhythm of the tires going endlessly round. To get to know my body, as one with the bike: A Beezelbarb-powered machine. My favorite parts ended up being the long slow downhills with curves. The ones that you could mostly coast down, wind in your face, feeling like a kid again.

We rode for a few hours, going way the heck up (quite an elevation gain) into these trails whose names I’ve long since forgotten. We took a detour to a trail that was a lot of up, then a very quick rollercoaster-type down, which was pretty fun and not too scary. Even little kids were doing it with their families. Once back on the trails which would eventually lead down to the river and the picnic areas, our leader warned us that coming up there would be some technical downhill which would be challenging, but worth it, and that we’d stop and talk it over before going through. She wasn’t kidding. We got to the first part of the trail where the challenge began—and had to wait—because suddenly there was a bottleneck of bikers. In between watching several group of people going by, in which 90% of them walked their bikes, including the guys, she demonstrated the technique we’d need to go over this very large, sharp grey boulder sticking directly out of the middle of the path. Immediately after the rock was a bit of a drop, and then the trail curved to the right and continued downward at what looked like a fairly steep angle.

Needless to say, watching all those people choose to walk their bikes over the obstacle kind of psyched our group out. Our leader assured us that we could do it, that it wasn’t beyond our skill level, that she would spot us and help guide us over the boulder. We talked about whether or not we wanted to attempt it, and nobody wanted to be the one to do it first. Something was bothering me though. Suddenly I could feel how disappointed I would be if I walked my bike over that boulder and didn’t try. This was the summer of my 40th birthday, and I was there, after all, to try things that I’d never done before. So, even though I was a bit terrified, I blurted out that I’d like to do it. After a bit of coaching, I lined myself up, our leader stood by to spot me, and I flew straight over the boulder, landing firmly, and even negotiating the curve ahead. At that moment, everyone cheered. They had never thought that I would be the one! I was usually lagging behind, not the one rushing first down the hill. My successful jump inspired another girl or two to try, although some of them still weren’t willing to risk it (I don’t blame them, another day and I would have made the same choice). I was proud of myself for making a decision and then acting quickly on it before fear and doubt made me change my mind, and I was proud of myself for not panicking midway through. I was happy to have inspired others. It was a small thing, but it made my day and it made me feel, well, alive.

There was a long, steep, and curvy downhill trail after this, dotted with ash-colored rocks, lined on both sides with red manzanita and beautiful old pines. And no, I didn’t suddenly negotiate every rock and bump perfectly, nor did I become fearless. In fact, I had to stop a bunch of times. But eventually we got through it, and were able to regroup and talk and meander back to the picnic area—where our leader told the tale of Beezelbarb’s jump. A good day.

Does this mean I’ve become a hard-core mountain biking freak, and that I’m doing crazy shit like careening down boulder strewn grades and catapulting myself over logs and rocks? No. But it’s a fun activity that I’d like to do again next summer. As long as I can also get in some hiking and birding as well. Because I’m not going to identify that Lewis’s Woodpecker when whizzing down trails or jumping boulders.