Saturday, September 27, 2014

The tao of the hill


If you want to be given everything, give everything up.
 -Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching 

Today I was lucky to ride with someone who is relatively new to cycling. The Zen Buddhists go to great lengths to attain what they call "beginner's mind". I went for a ride.

This was a hilly route. As Martin from relatively flat Sweden found out this summer, our part of California is so not flat. Everywhere you go there are hills. Small, medium, large. Legions of hills.

It is not evident from a car but climbing a hill on a bicycle is just about the hardest physical thing a human can do. You are lifting your own weight and the bike against gravity, at a certain pace. When you reach the top it doesn't feel like an ego triumph, it feels like an unlikely victory.

And the whole process takes every bit of strength and effort and attention you can muster. While climbing, you can think of nothing else. It hollows you out, whittles your thoughts down to nothing, and you can only hope there will be a chance to recoup down the road.

Ironically, the only way to train mind and body to do this, climb hills, is to actually climb a lot of hills. It's a Catch-22. So if you're a beginner, you don't really have that ability yet.

And if you have that ability, you don't remember what it's like to be a beginner.

At the end (we all survived the ride, the hills, and each other) the story is about how when you think you have nothing left, when you think what's in front of you is impossible, just put your head down and push. Don't look at what it looks like, what's up there, just give what you've got.

Legs and lungs find a rhythm, a flow. They work together and there's discomfort. First your mind tries to know everything and be a hero. Then it gets disgusted and tries to give up. You keep going, driving toward something in the middle. Eventually you reach the top and think - wow.

It's possible.

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