Two things to know going into this: - I have gout - I used to be really into cycling, especially mountain biking.
Luckily I haven't had an attack of gout in around 15 years, though they used to be atrocious and frequent.
I also have not been mountain biking in about that same time. The later is mostly unrelated to the former.
I had moved to a place where there weren't a ton of good trails around. I had a fixed-gear I'd ride to and from work most of the time (when my foot wasn't being an asshole) but otherwise, I had also started pouring ever more of my time and attention into diving.
This is the critical part - having moved away from the consistent practice, somewhat predictably, my mountain biking skills took a rapid nose-dive. In many cases: literally.
I was already not riding a ton AND I was just getting over a long series of horrific gout events when some friends came to stay with me. I still wasn't walking quite right, but these two were bike pros. They traveled the country showing people how to sustainably maintain trails, how to build a good trail where the woods were just asking for one. How to use equipment and organize a workforce to get it done. That sort of thing. So I was damn sure going riding with them. They knew a place that was a bit of a drive where we were going to meet up with a pretty big group of folks and it would be worth it.
I just couldn't hack it.
No way I could keep up with the pace. It wasn't just that my foot still felt like it was being stabbed with knitting needles; my lungs were on fire with several months of inactivity as I had been recovering. And there was no way for me to safely maneuver through areas of the trail and over some obstacles without wiping out horribly enough to risk serious injury.
Now this is the most interesting part - the part that I wound up talking about with one of my friends (she had generously opted to walk much of the trail with me): It was a compounding problem.
Those riders who were more comfortable, experienced, practiced, and in better shape were having a great time. They would breeze through trail that was challenging, but fun. The workout was invigorating, but not painful. And every once in a while they'd stop to let the couple of us lagging behind catch up... effectively, taking a break, catching their breath, letting their legs recover a bit.
And when we, after our labors, finally caught up, everyone would take off again together. The more experienced riders rested and fresh : those of us struggling... continuing our struggle.
And in that struggle, our attention would waver. Our sore legs and shoulders were less able to nimbly manage our bikes. Our ability to properly execute turns or jumps ever more compromised. Our safety in greater and greater risk.
I was thinking about that conversation yesterday, about how the problem of inexperience, lack of practice, degrading skills, etc. can compound and, eventually, lead to disaster.
Nelly, Andrés and had ourselves a 3-hour dive full of complex navigation, recalculation of gas (involving a stage bottle), some very technical restrictions surrounded by lace-delicate formations... generally a pretty challenging dive.
Each of the three of us is very experienced and very frequently practiced.
And it was an amazing dive. The variety of shapes and colors, the joy of having to slow down and think through every movement. Of floating inverted, but motionless, below a ceiling covered in soda straws that are 2 feet long.
It wasn't "easy" per se. It was refreshingly challenging, but well within the scope of our abilities individually and as a team. And out of nowhere that conversation walking through the woods more than a decade ago popped into my head.
And as I started thinking about my "ease" of skills application yesterday versus my complete muppetry on the bike trail all those years ago I started wondering about how many people wipe out on a bike every year? Every day?
How many people are willing to risk injury in a sport where fuck-up-feedback is instantaneous and usually in the form of stopping very abruptly against a tree?
Versus how many people risk injury cave diving where the feedback might not be so instantaneous? Where "it will probably be fine," and often is? But where, sometimes, it isn't. And when it isn't, when something does go wrong and you suddenly realize that you are, in fact, in over your head --- horrifyingly, in that case you have just enough time to meditate on how instantaneous things are about to be.
Fuck up on a mountain bike, you'll be bruised and bloodied. Fuck up underwater, you drown.
It is obvious that if you fuck up on a bike on one of those 6-inch wide ridges you see psychopaths making GoPro videos of, you fall to your death. But for some reason people are less likely to risk themselves on mountain bike trails that are that challenging than they are for dives that are equally as skill/ability requisite. Perceived ease, I suppose? After all, it's just diving and they're good at it... their instructor said so!
It's going to be hard for me to not think of that day on the bike trail when I hear people, here for their vacation, talking about how excited they are about this or that world-class dive they're gearing up for. It's going to be hard for me to wonder whether, at a lake or a quarry or whatever, they are keeping practiced and fresh for these types of dives. Or if their minds are going to be wandering, getting ever-more distracted as they barely miss wipe-out after wipe-out and struggle to keep up.