cycling · fitness

Navigating pandemics, riding down cliff slabs: similar rules

Y’all have got to watch this video.

Danny MacAskill, world-famous and multiply-injured trials bike legend, rides down the Dubh rock slabs on the Scottish Isle of Skye. He’s not a novice at biking on and around and up and down and off a variety of relatively unbikeable terrain. You can see him busting out his skills here and here and here and here. And there’s lots more where that came from (YouTube, that is).

So, what makes this particular video noteworthy?

At the top of the cliff slabs, Danny MacAskill looks down and says, “that’s scary”. And then he proceeds to do it anyway, feeling his way, letting us see him go slow, even bobbling a little on a tough line. He repeats his pronouncement at least twice more. But he found a line through it.

Watching his ride down these slabs (which he filmed in one take, using mainly his helmet GoPro camera), I found some good advice for getting through the rest of this pandemic period. Feel free to stop reading and pull up the video at the time stamps noted, and see what you think.

1.Know this: some experiences we embark on, or confront on our way, are going to be scary. Period. That’s just how they are.

2. Be ready to go slow. Plan the slow-downs– find places where you’re forced to go uphill or pause what you’re doing. It helps you scrub speed, stay in or regain control.

3. Have really good brakes (MacAskill talks about his brakes set up– he knows he’ll need help, so he got some). Your brakes may be that inner voice saying, “uh, let’s not rush into this”, or friends helping you temper some urge that’s important, but which may need to wait a bit.

4. Draw on skills from different experiences and areas of training to get through this. For MacAskill, his trials bike training and downhill expertise gives him control and choices– pop the front wheel up, swing the bike around to change direction (2:04), track stand and bunny hop to gain a better position, stay loose when he’s closer to vertical, etc. Staying loose when things are going vertical seems like a very good skill to develop.

5. In that rare moment of beauty and grace, let yourself be with it. You and the bike are one (2:20).

5. But, what looks beautiful and effortless from the outside will often be staccato and exhausting from the inside. MacAskill lets us see both perspectives (2:10–2:21), and they’re both true.

At 2:45, he enters a rocky ridge line route. Even though you can’t hear it, you can tell he’s taking a deep breath to focus on this extremely dangerous and difficult line. You can feel every bump and the effort it takes to stay upright. Watching him bumping up the face of that sheer rock to a small ledge (3:42) nearly did me in.

6. Sometimes, there’s no place to hide. At 4:11–4:25, it’s just him and the cliff. He’s committed, and has only his skills and experience to get him down. Note how he drops way behind the saddle– a graceful dip– for a close-to-vertical section (4:22). He trusts himself and he trusts the bike.

7. Life occasionally demands some serious body english from us, and MacAskill shows us how it takes some jostling to get the next descent prepared (4:30).

8. Don’t forget to celebrate when you finish. MacAskill’s triumphant and relieved whooping commences at the 5-minute mark. At 5:12, he says, “Oh that was scary!” Yes it was.

In case we didn’t hear it the first couple of times, he takes off his helmet, points the GoPro camera at himself, and says, smiling, “That was pretty scary.” But he was thrilled and happy and uninjured.

Dear readers, are you feeling scared right now? Are you ready for the descent to the bottom of this period in history? What skills are you feeling in need of? Which ones are you drawing on these days? I’d love to hear from you.

One thought on “Navigating pandemics, riding down cliff slabs: similar rules

  1. Love this. When you said you were going to write about it, I wondered what you were going to say. This is perfect. I really enjoyed his admission of fear and how scary this is and doing it anyway.

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