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As I Ride: Forming stories in movement

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Photo by Wayne Bishop (Unsplash)

As I ride, in my mind I write.

I'm thinking up words that might capture the experience I'm having - the burn in my legs as tyres eat into dirt, the exertion heard in the deep rasps of my breath, the steady, satisfying mechanical sound of wheels turning.

Words come easily on the hard uphill slogs and are quickly lost as the descent comes. I try to remember some of them before they evaporate.

These words don't just come as I ride, but also as I climb or run. The movement allows me to focus, and this focus often shifts from awareness of my surroundings, smells and the way my body feels on the uphill to an encompassing mindlessness on the downhill. This mindlessness is essential because it keeps me on my bike, on the rock face, on the trail. A sense of freedom is found in both instances. In one my mind is free, in the other my body.

I was never told that I was dyslexic at school. My mother never gave up that information to me and yet somehow, when I was eventually told at the age of 15, I felt insulted. "I'm not," I thought. "Never have been." Perhaps I am, but forming words and sentences as my body moves comes easily to me. Maybe movement is the key to my stories.

Just being outside was enough

Today's ride didn't come easily. It was the first since my third shoulder dislocation and I was apprehensive in setting off. I nearly talked myself out of it, but when my tyres touched that first inch of dirt I knew I'd made the right decision.

The uphill felt hard but my mind wandered as my legs and lungs put in the work. It wasn't to be a ride of epic proportions or extreme exposure. Just being outside was enough. When I made it to the damp pine forest the smell excited me. I hadn't been here in a long time. I hadn't been on my bike in a long time. Too concerned with recovery, rehab and what ifs, I had failed to do the things I love.

I'm a rock climber, not a mountain biker, but being outside in and of itself allows me a release. This release from work, from the stresses an injury puts on you, from the urge to keep training, was a welcome one. As I hit the first descent, carving through berms, I felt ecstatic. Why hadn't I done this sooner? My shoulder felt stable. I didn't even think about it. I was so in the zone, so wrapped up in the next jump, the next corner, it didn't cross my mind. This is what I had been missing.

I find the ease of writing in the strain of the exertion

Dealing with injuries is hard, especially ones which last. What's worse is when they seem to be fixed and then they re-emerge out of the darkness and swallow you whole. The thing I've learned, or perhaps just remembered after riding today, is not to become engulfed by an injury. To see that actually, in periods of recovery, you can allow time for other passions - time which allows freedom of body and mind through exertion, the wilderness and the simplicity of movement.

There will be time again to train hard and to focus on goals, but right now I need to keep my mind happy to fuel my soul, to ride, to write. I find the ease of writing in the strain of the exertion. If I continue on those uphill slogs, stories will keep coming.

Olly Keeling

Next article in issue 142

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