Maintaining the balance

By Justin Henney
Reader Contributor

Editor’s Note: The following piece of writing was submitted over a month ago but we have been backlogged with content, so we were unable to run it while the snow was on the ground. Because we enjoyed the piece so much, here it is. Better late than never.

Recently I drove up to the trailhead, let my dog, Bodger, out of my car and got my snowbike off the back. I was feeling slightly out of balance due to a little too much wine the night before, and that imbalance reared its ugly head as I realized I had forgotten my biking shoes.

The shoes I was wearing were basically slippers—way less than practical since the ride involved several foot plants in deep snow and likely a crash or two. Bodger kept looking at me, tilting his head, wondering why I was standing next to my bike and not getting it off the car and riding up the hill as usual.

Seven minutes later we were back at our home, explaining to my wife and leaving again, this time by bike, across Lakeview Park and down to the lake. My timing was fortunate as I witnessed a bald eagle attacking a Canada goose.

I was fortunate in the sense that it was wild and uncommon and kind of amazing for me to see this when only minutes ago I was in a warm home with store-bought food. On the other hand, unfortunate is an understatement in describing how the goose’s morning turned out. Within seconds, huge talons from one eagle ended the goose’s life, followed by several bald eagles landing on the ice within yards of the attacker. Feathers and down were all over as a golden eagle landed a few yards away from the others.

How different life is for these eagles than for me. In some ways I think the life of an eagle on this lake/river is incredibly simple, yet more difficult than life for almost any human. Do eagles feel cheated and act like victims like so many people do because life is so hard for them? They sure don’t appear to feel sorry for themselves.

Bodger had been obedient on the ice, but finally was unable to restrain himself. He ran toward the lone golden eagle, still on the ice. The others were now sitting on the top of posts in the water or flying overhead, waiting for us to leave. Bodger is still a puppy, although nearly 100 pounds of puppy, and he acted like he wanted to play with the golden eagle. Eagles, if they play, were having none of it today, with an immature Rhodesian Ridgeback.

Twenty minutes later we left the ice and snow on the river in Dover. Placing my feet in an adult moose’s prints, we hiked off the ice and began riding on plowed roads. Simple pleasures. In another 10 minutes we were passing the blue gate and heading up into Syringa Heights bike trails from the Dover side. Bodger was getting tired, but I knew he’d be thinking about chewing my shoes the next day if he had too much energy, so upward we climbed.

As we climbed, I thought of how eagles keep balance in their lives. I assume they do not suffer emotional imbalance like humans, so that makes it way less complicated: eating, hunting, sleeping, migrating and reproducing.

The path became narrow on compacted snow. It looked to be about six inches wide. I loved the various pines, and the sun was trying to show itself. The further I rode, the fewer people had hiked and ridden the trail. The path became narrower, and I began to see impressions of soft crash sites, some from me on other days.

The crunchy, dry snow, coupled with the scenery, was therapy for me. I also loved the way it felt and sounded under my fat snow tires. No one was up here that day except Bodger, a deer that just watched us pass and me. I smiled to myself as I thought of the people with snow bikes who only seem to ride them to bars and back home—at least they are drinking responsibly.

Further on I was keenly aware of the physical balance required to ride a snow bike up a section of trail called Sherwood Forest. Although I swore under my breath as I spun out on another steep turn. Bodger put his ears up, tilted his head and looked at me (it’s OK, Bodge, you’re a good boy). I absolutely loved this challenge. The balance and focus required to ride up this hill on a narrow snow-packed path was more difficult than riding a unicycle on the same trail in the summer.

When I ride I almost always think of the other balance in my life. The silence, dopamine and intense focus on the trail help me think about my family and how much quality time I have been spending with them. Keeping my girls away from most television, violent computer games and the internet is only part of it. How engaged have I been with my daughters, listening to them and playing with them?

Riding on, I thought of how I would love to experience the results of training more than my typical three to five hours a week during the spring and summer. Again, there is an imbalance of training more, which equates to less time spent with my girls and wife.

That day’s ride was rife with metaphor, and I can’t stop thinking about how riding on such a narrow, soft path represents my life in many ways. If my focus is strong and my effort great, I crash less and it is a soft landing. At home and at work, if I stay on task and keep giving it 90-95 percent, take the initiative and enforce boundaries, my life stays in balance, my crashes are minimal and my wife, daughters, friends and co-workers forgive me. If I give my life and cycling 100 percent, I’ll go anaerobic and burn out. Feeling content and clear is what I strive for out in the woods, and if I am lucky I’ll get a buzz that lasts for many hours after my ride.

I felt the endorphins already that day, and I hadn’t even finished my ride. I always feel a sense of gratitude at the end of my rides, and that day was an especially good one, even as it began to snow. My balance was good, and I couldn’t stop thinking how lucky I am for my family and to live where I live and do what I do.

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