I remember reading, a long time ago now, the story of a pilot confronted with the failure of his plane’s engine and all the thoughts that raced through his mind in the brief time between the last sputtering of his propeller and the surprise instant when the engine restarted. The point of the piece, beyond the improbability of surviving such an incident, was that the human mind is capable of processing a lot of information very quickly so that seconds seem to stretch into minutes and quite complex ideas can form and pass in a flash.
We all have this experience sometimes when we crash, don’t we? There are those crashes that seem to happen before we know it, i.e. we find ourselves on the ground before we are aware that anything is even amiss, but then there are crashes where everything seems to happen is slow motion. I remember once going over the handlebars when a car stopped in front of me unexpectedly, and in the fractional seconds of flying through the air I became aware of my elbow hitting the ground first, the blooming pain of skin being ground off that elbow by the pavement, and the realization that when I came to rest, there would be blood.
Consider too Padraig’s description of his big crash from last season. He is more informed than I am on the neurochemical explanation for our experiences of these visceral moments.
But adrenaline isn’t the only way to make amber of your time. Hard effort can get you there, too. This quality of the elasticity of time was mostly the inspiration for In the Space of a Pedal Stroke from earlier this week, that and a root-level need to think about summer instead of this cruel, persistent winter.
How many times have I been to that painful place at the edge of effort, sawing my way up a steep hill or trying in vain to cling to a wheel I have no business following? How many times have I been out in shitty weather, sleet cutting sideways, my cheeks going numb or the summer heat like a smothering pillow held over my face? It’s interesting the thoughts that bubble up in these circumstances, when things get hard.
This week’s Group Ride asks what you think about in your difficult moments? Do you have a go-to thought? A mantra? Is this where your great epiphanies comes from? Or have you perfected the art of blankness? I sometimes try to think about the aching in my quads as something apart from myself, to observe it rather than feel it. I always fail at this.
Image: PhotoSport International