It happened during the bike ride in the Canadian Rockies in 2017. It was the third day of the ride, and we had left the area of the Columbia Icefield that morning. We were descending Parker Ridge on the Icefields Parkway on our bikes. The road was somewhat steep. The pavement was in bad shape, and the narrow shoulder of the road that we were riding on looked like it was falling apart. There were cracks everywhere, and the outside edge of the shoulder was very uneven.
We were coming down the side of the mountain rather fast, and then we were negotiating the curve around the mountainside at a point where there was a lookout point into the valley on the other side of the road. Some folks in the group tried to stop at the curve. Our radio started squawking. It was Ben, our tour organizer, telling us that this was not a good place to stop (it was busy with traffic), and that we needed to get to a safer point closer the bottom of the hill to pull off the road.
I was doing my damnedest to try to keep the tires steady going downhill. There was a lot of bouncing around involved. When we finally got to a place where we could stop and gather ourselves, Ben asked me how it had felt coming down. It seemed to him that I had looked wobbly on the bike. He advised me to not hold on to the handlebars very hard. He said that I should actually relax my arms a little more to allow a little bit of bounce. That would make the ride easier.
This advice made a big difference the rest of the way down the mountain. It turns out that letting the bicycle react to the roughness of the roadway and going with the flow, and making fewer and more subtle adjustments, made for a smoother, and actually more controlled, ride. I did not need to react hard to every bump on the road. I did not need to fear the feeling of not being completely in control all the time.
I was thinking about this incident a couple of days ago during a more recent bike ride. The thought occurred to me that I have always had this tendency since childhood to try to force things to happen in exactly a certain way, striving for the perfect approach in some situations, when, in certain circumstances, the best thing to do might have been to relax a little.
I learnt a similar lesson about control more recently when I was taking classes to learn how to sing properly. I was learning to use the body properly to create a consistent and strong musical sound. But, as it turned out, I ended up also trying too hard to manage the vocal system as a part of this process. You cannot make a good sound when the muscles are tense. I had to learn to relax. I managed to get my head around this fact only later. Trying very hard for perfection may not necessarily be the best approach in all situations.
While this kind of general attitude towards getting things done right might have made me a better engineer, and even a good solver of logical problems, it may not have been a good lesson to help me deal with life in general. Just as I was made to realize with the bicycle that a 100% control of the handlebars was not the best approach, the 100% solution is probably not the best approach to life as a whole. As I have noted before, the world is not digital! I tried too hard in situations where it did not make sense. I missed the big picture. Setting rules does not absolve you from thinking, learning as you go, and adjusting as needed. You cannot be stuck on making sure everything is done exactly as you want it. And people do matter!
I am sorry to admit that I began to learn this lesson properly only later in life. It turns out that it is not easy to get away from the foundation that you grew up with. I would like to believe that I am now learning to take it easy on the handlebars, to let go of some of the control, and to not force matters. Unfortunately, the impact of my failure to learn this lesson earlier in life has been not just on myself, but also on other people. Hopefully, the impact of the damage has been limited.
We should all be taking it easy on the proverbial handlebars, or, if you prefer, the steering wheel.
2 thoughts on “Easy On The Handlebars”
Great analogies to get an important message across.
Beautiful post Kuria! Yes, we all need to let go a bit! Thanks for writing this!