Tracking Topography -- How Mountain Biking can Create Space and Time By Chris Woodroof

Tracking Topography -- How Mountain Biking can Create Space and Time By Chris Woodroof

I gently lower the needle onto some spinning vinyl, my mind racing as I reflect on my day. The thoughts of work, how to parent, and what tasks need to be completed the next day are at the forefront of my mind. I breathe. I try to focus and minimize the noise. I watch as the needle traces the contours in the record, sounds of strings and vocal harmonies begin to fill the room. I gently close my eyes as the mandolin comes in, the music starts to take over. Worries and stress begin to dissolve as I let the music guide my thoughts. Sometimes it takes me to places I haven't been before -- other times it is an old song that I see differently based on the context of my day. Side A ends the record slowly comes to a stop. I reach to turn the album over rejuvenated, refocused, and refreshed. Side B begins to spin, this time I’m ready to just enjoy the journey and as the music starts I feel lighter, refreshed, ready to experience and be present in life.


With summer kicking off full on bike season and thoughts of warm weather and outdoor adventures on the forefront of people's mind I am often asked a simple question. Sometimes it is asked by people who are just getting interested in mountain biking, other times from friends who don’t get my obsession. The phrasing of the question isn’t always the same, but the spirit of it is. “What is it you like so much about mountain biking?” Just being asked the question brings a sense of excitement as I get to talk about BIKES! YAY BIKES! It’s a simple question but one that has shaped many lifestyle choices. It has influenced where we live, work, how we vacation, and how we encourage our children to engage with the outdoors -- as such it deserves a well thought out answer beyond a canned “well it’s rad, duh!” If for no other reason than to help others understand why and how mountain biking can positively impact your life. And along those lines maybe a thoughtful answer will help invigorate someone else to find passion for the sport, to continue to foster relationships on the trail, to care for the community we ride in, and share in the joy that the sport has brought me.


I often joke with my wife that while bikes are expensive it serves as my gym membership, social club, doctor, church, and shrink. The intense focus and effort to continually grind up always long, sometimes loose, occasionally boring climbs gets my heart beating, my muscles burning, and my lungs screaming. All of which is great for my body and helps maintain a level of physical fitness -- a worthy objective in its own right. But possibly more importantly it creates headspace. Noise from the day slowly fades into the background as my breathing gets louder. My breathe finds a pace and I focus on the the rhythm of my thumping heart. My tires trace the landscape, like a needle on a record, and the song of the mountain comes alive. It is here in this space where I find the true benefits of riding can be found.  With the noise of my day gone I have time. Sometimes it is time to invest in relationships. Riding up a long climb with a friends (old and new) and getting to ask questions about their life, to share struggles, triumphs, and to tell jokes (often wildly inappropriate at that). Sometimes it is time to invest in me. To think about recent struggles and plan solutions, to re-prioritize items in my life, or simply to appreciate the beauty of God’s nature.


Once at the top I feel refreshed. Often exhausted physically but having found a much healthier mental state. I breathe, I drop the saddle, and point the freakin bike downhill! Here I come alive. The mundane task driven predictability of much of my work week is gone as quickly as my pedals start to turn. Plowing through rock gardens, searching for air, pressing for speed through corners, looking for flow, and thinking “oh shit!” more times than I can count (because I’m about to crash or because it is so damn fun). My mind, body, and soul feel alive as I grip the bars tighter, my heart races, and as soon as the ride started it ends.


As I pedal back to the car, adrenaline still pumping, I feel accomplished. Even after a ride I’ve done hundreds of times no two are the same. Each bringing a unique experience and perspective. Some rides are shared with friends but many are often done alone. Some discussions light and jovial in nature filled with smiles and laughs -- others convey real struggle and sharing. The one constant is every time I come away from a ride in a much healthier mental state than when I began. Totally exhausted but rejuvenated at the same time -- what a rad dichotomy!


Mountain biking has allowed me to explore and experience some incredible places. I have camped in arid and beautiful deserts, ridden by pristine high alpine lakes, bathed in freezing rivers after hours in the saddle (not a pretty sight), and traveled to incredible destinations all to experience nature atop two wheels. It has created and instilled in me a culture of exploration and for that I am extremely grateful. But more importantly its created a daily experience to find balance in life. Like listening to a record it forces me to be present in the moment. To make a conscious choice to engage in the now and once present be rewarded with the joys of what mountain biking can offer. It's a lesson I can take and carry over to other aspects of life -- simply to be present! To be present with my kids, to be present with my with my wife with my family, and even my work -- and approach tasks with a renewed spirit and enthusiasm. So yeah for me biking is rad but not necessarily for the reason one would initially think.


So when I reach the bottom of the trial, all fist bumps and grins and someone asks if we should go another lap I smile, breath, and we head back out -- YAY BIKES!



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