I often hear people say they are ‘stuck in a rut’ but wonder how many of them have actually experienced it in the literal sense. I know its an oft used phrase but for anyone who rides a two wheeled vehicle off road – motor or pedal powered, the actual realities of being ‘stuck in a rut’ are far more interesting.
My initiation to mountain biking was in Dunedin in the early 1990’s as a student. No suspension, just a solid steel frame with no fancy bits. Signal hill was gorse lined and ruthless with deep ruts and unforgiving corners. One crash and you were squeezing red, inflamed pustules weeks later from which would emerge long black spikes like something out of a horror movie.
But learning to ride ruts was crucial. I remember the desperation and powerlessness as my bike slid into a deep one, pedals barely staying clear of the clay either side. I lacked the skills to bunny hop out and really had no idea – I freaked out and made friends with the gorse. The more I rode ruts the more I realised that being stuck in one was part of the adventure, a bit like life.
So here are some things I learned about riding ruts in clay that might cross into some metaphorical, mystical life lesson, mantra or not. First there were times I would be able to avoid them and if I fell in one I would relax my hands because any tension would result in fighting the front wheel, causing the inevitable. Keeping my eyes up on where I wanted to go helped to shift not just my visual focus but my mental focus was ‘there’s where I want to go rather than ‘oh no, I don’t want to hit that’. Surrendering control might sound a little extreme but certainly altering and adjusting my awareness and responses to what control was going to be useful. Ensuring my weight was on my pedals, keeping relaxed and trusting those great knobbly tyres would bite when they needed to helped me negotiate my way out and avoid a later date with disinfectant and an even later one with prickle extraction.
Being stuck in a rut isn’t usually so adrenaline laden, but a rut is a rut and sometimes getting out of one is less poetic – stopping, getting off and lifting my bike out was also a tactic I used. No shame – and definitely less pain.