Trail Eyes

If you’ve ever seen a professional tracker work, you’ll know they see things we don’t, a slight indentation in a bed of leaves, a stray broken twig, a tuft of fur in the bark of some tree, and they can follow an animal over long distances, when you or I would have walked in a tight circle and not even realized it. It’s a keen and highly trained way of seeing things, and I suspect it becomes second nature to them.

I’m not a hunter, so tracking animals holds a lot less interest for me, but as a rider of bikes, I do have a way of seeing a trail, even when I’m not on a bike that has become sort of autonomic.

Maybe we are out with the dog in a patch of woods, and I will say to my wife, “Do you see that rock there, the one that’s been wedged under the lip of that larger rock? Some kids put that there to make the entry to boulder smoother. There’s a little track in the dirt on the other side. That’s the exit.” And she looks at me, as she often does, as if I have just extolled the benign and loving influence of a cult deity with an unpronounceable name and the requirement that its followers scratch around in the leaves for the slightest pattern of meaning.

Even when I’m walking, I envision myself riding. What line would I choose? Is it too steep here? Could I thread my way down through this rock garden? I know that not everything that is walkable is not rideable (at least not for me), but I like to perform the thought exercise of it anyway.

I don’t even have to be in the woods. School campuses are full of hardscape that is accidentally appealing as bike obstacle, even if only long sets of concrete stairs and low benches. There are a few schools where I am wont to session a feature or two. Few of my friends, even the bikey ones, understand this predilection.

A big part of my love for trail running (a love that dare not speak its name here?) relates to line choice and agility, the same things that appeal to me about technical mountain biking, the flow, the speed, the proprioceptive feedback. Yes. I said proprioceptive feedback. It’s the sixth sense. It’s the Jedi mind in action. It’s the entryway to flow state.

My addiction to that bit of psycho-physical alchemy is, I think, what helped develop my trail eyes. That, and I live in a bike-heavy land of make believe. I wonder how many of you also do this, and how often you find your way back to these stretches of trail you read on foot and try to ride the lines you envisioned in your head. I’ll be honest, my success rate isn’t that high. I usually overestimate my skills, but that’s alright. I would rather see the world this way.

Three cheers for Shimano North America, our primary site sponsor here at TCI.

Join the conversation
  1. tcfrog says

    I don’t have trail eyes the way you describe, but I do tend to view roads with an eye towards how rideable they are. Paved roads get checked for space to ride, road condition, and traffic levels, while on gravel I’m looking for how packed the surface is, how much traffic is using the road, and how it could connect in to another stretch of gravel. Either way, it’s a good way to plan out new rides and explore the world a little bit more.

  2. eborling says

    My trail eyes are always working out. When I am walking, I imagine the different lines I would take on my mtn bike vs my moto. When I am mtn biking I often think of how I would be doing it on my moto. The weird thing is that when I am on my moto I never ever think of how I would do it on my mtn bike. I think it goes without saying that while mtn biking or moto-ing I never ever ever ever think of how I would do it while walking.

    One major distraction for me is riding near a river or creek on either vehicle. I find myself looking for fishy water and how I would cast flies into it. The odd thing about that is that I very rarely pass up an opportunity to ride my mtn bike or moto to go fly fishing though.

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