Bruises. There’s one on my left side, just below the ribs, from where I fell off my gravel bike, then a double on the left shin, a larger one with a scab in the middle and a smaller one just below it, unclear where those came from, and yet another on the back of my right thigh, from where I pitched over sideways on the mountain bike in the narrow space between two big rocks, landing firmly on the larger, sharper one.
Bruises aren’t so bad though.
I’ve been doing some hard thinking about what I want from my riding, but also from my life, and what getting those things might cost. This started, more or less, with a pep talk I gave Meghna who only took up mountain biking recently and despite being a pretty superior athlete is struggling with consistency. Sometimes she rides really well. Sometimes not. And so, as she explained to me, it’s sometimes hard for her to maintain a feeling of improvement, when she feels like her performance, for lack of a better word, fluctuates so much.
I basically encouraged her to court failure a bit more. On the bike, on the trail, we play a long game. We try things we’re not sure we can do in order to figure out how to do them next time. It’s tempting, especially when you’re riding with more experienced people, to take all the easiest lines in order to keep up, but that’s the short game, just trying not to make your friends wait for you. It’s considerate, in a way, but it’s also not the most productive when you’re trying to come up the skills curve.
So that was all nice and she seemed to take motivation from it, so good job me, I guess.
But then I got to thinking about my own approach.
What I like best is to ride difficult, technical single-track. When I’m good, when I’m on my game, it gives me this powerful feeling of flow and capability. And when I’m not good, well it can be pretty disappointing and often comes with injuries, because I’m putting myself into precarious situations that depend on solid timing, well-executed moves, etc. And the stakes can be high, because rocks, and exposure, and falling off in those scenarios isn’t usually just stepping off onto the side of the trail.
One day last week I rode with some other friends, and I was NOT on my game. I went off the bike a few different times. At one point, one of the guys pointed out to me that I was bleeding, like all the way down one forearm. I have that big purple bruise just below my ribs on my left side from a fall last week.
I’m 51. I have a lifetime’s worth of accrued injuries, and I don’t really need these bruises, cuts, scrapes and the occasional muscle spasm, not to mention fresh injuries.
Except they seem to be the price of the sort of improvement I’m after. I quizzed myself pretty hard this week about whether what I want makes sense or not, at least physically, and I came to the conclusion that I have to keep going, at least for now. I’ve come to think of it as “Bruise Life,” the sort of lifestyle that leads to frequent bruising, bleeding and yes, even sometimes injuries.
To live Bruise Life fully you have to accept pain and setbacks.
This isn’t macho nonsense, I don’t think. It’s a way of living that tolerates risk. You can live Bruise Life in your career, in your relationships. It’s just a tacit acceptance that being true to yourself and your aims means you’re gonna fail a bunch. Your ego and pride will be bruised. Your relationships will be tested and stretched. Your ambition will sometimes be clipped.
I’m sure there will come a time when these aches and pains and setbacks will become too much, or this mania I have for doing this type of riding will subside, or I will set aside goals for my work. That’s fine. But I watched my dad deteriorate from Parkinson’s Disease over a period of 15 years. I watched my brother die of pancreatic cancer in his 50s. So many dreams unrealized.
I’m not trying to hurt myself, and I don’t think I’m cavalier about any of it. I just believe, at least for right now, that I’m willing to continue pushing to see what I can achieve before I reach that point of needing to pull back. Or dying.