And then I looked up at the sun and I could see
Oh the way that gravity turns for you and me
And then I looked up at the sky and saw the sun
And the way that gravity pulls on everyone
The other day I found myself lying in a meadow. All around me the new growth was creating a species rich carpet, fuelled by the combination of wetness and warmth that marks the transition from spring to summer. Insects and butterflies were beginning to explore the emergent summer flowers, and high in the sky above, a buzzard rested with an air of nonchalance on the warm currents rising from the earth below. In my position, gazing up at the sky, I felt comfortable, supported and grounded. The earth was holding my weight. In this restful, calm, moment – gravity was my friend.
And yet, it has often seemed that when I’m on my bike, my relationship with gravity is more diffident. There is no small irony in the observation that I have found my issues with gravity, hard to ‘pin down’.
There was a particular sunny afternoon, riding a perfect ribbon of singletrack down a familiar combe, flanked by bracken and gorse. I was enjoying the effortlessness of the downward trajectory – no pedal strokes necessary – just my weight and the rotation of the wheels delivering me to the base of the valley through the stream rivulets as they casually meandered back and forth across the trail. The bank edges provided just enough depth to slingshot the corners, and the loose sections shed temporary dust clouds, kicked up by the rolling treads ahead of me. If I could have bottled the essence of ‘perfect summer singletrack riding’, it was then and there.
In a split second I had become weightless, but not in that magical way you get when pumping a lip or a perfectly situated trailside stump for air. No, this was one of those ‘I’m not sure what just happened, but I know with absolute certainty that it isn’t going end well’ moments of weightlessness that can only mean one thing. I was now disconnected from my bike and gravity was going to return me to the earth unceremoniously and without grace – pain was a distinct possibility.
It’s fascinating how quickly your brain can process the unexpected. I remember clearly somersaulting through the spiky undergrowth as it ripped at my skin, the bizarre, extended freefall, and then the sudden thud as I landed flat on my back at the base of the gully, staring up at the sky. From my prone, streambed position I had a picture postcard view of the weather at work, as wispy, high altitude clouds scudded across the watercolour blue backdrop. Above me, all was calm and serene.
But, this was not a moment to be cosseted by, or to commune with, nature. Gravity had dealt me a harsh blow, and as if in defiance I jumped straight to my feet in a [admittedly feeble] bid to exert my authority and control over the situation. This probably wasn’t the best thing to do given the distance of the fall – I had to walk down the stream to scramble back out, as the bank was too steep and high at the point where I had landed to extract myself – but the propulsion to rise up immediately was instinctive and strong.
I don’t think you need to go all ‘sciency’ to appreciate that gravity is a tricky thing to understand. But, this particular episode did make me think more about how as a rider you really can help yourself by being more mindful of how your choices along the trail will work best with the forces of nature. Because as much as you or I might wish for it – it’s never going to be about exerting control over gravity. In reality it’s more of a dance, where you have to learn to work with and respect its part in your enjoyment of the moment. Learn to dance well, and it’s less likely to hurt you too.
*Lyrics from ‘Gravity’ by Embrace (2002/2004) … written by Chris Martin.